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Local family plans benefit for sick 7-year-old

GREENFIELD — Donald and Charlotte Gordon were relaxing one recent spring night when at around 9:30 their phone rang. “It was our daughter in Rhode Island,” said Charlotte Gordon, who had worked as a nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center for many years.

“You know there’s something wrong when you get a call that late at night,” said Donald Gordon, who taught at Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield for many years, where he also coached wrestling — and continues to coach football.

“She told us our granddaughter was sick,” said Charlotte Gordon.

The couple’s daughter, Jennifer Zangari, who lives in Cumberland, R.I., had noticed that their 7-year-old granddaughter Charlotte Braga seemed to be bruising easily.

“She didn’t think anything of it at first, because Charlotte’s so active,” said Zangari’s sister, Alyson Fisher of Northfield. “Charlotte was still bouncing around, leaping and acting like herself.”

But, in spring of this year, Zangari noticed her daughter was bruising more frequently and that the bruises were bigger and darker than they had been.

“She took her to the doctor to have blood work done and within hours the doctor called Jen and said she had to pack a bag and get Charlotte to an emergency room,” said Fisher. “While she was getting that news, Charlotte was in the living room doing headstands.”

Zangari quickly learned that her daughter’s blood levels were critical, said the family.

“She has severe aplastic anemia,” said Fisher. “We’re told it’s very rare and the only cure is a bone marrow transplant.”

Aplastic anemia is a disease in which the bone marrow and the blood stem cells that reside there are damaged, causing a deficiency of all three blood cell types — red, white and platelets.

The energetic 7-year-old with flowing dark hair and a spirited smile ended up in Boston Children’s Hospital for several days so that doctors could get a handle on her condition.

She received treatment in June — not a bone marrow transplant yet — and doctors are hoping to see improvement, said the family.

They said she might have to have a transplant within weeks or months, but if all goes well, the intermediate treatment could work and it could be years before the little girl faces such a procedure.

“She has to go to Boston twice a week to be checked,” said Fisher. “We’re crossing our fingers.”

Fisher said her niece has always been a giving, caring and loving child, always wanting to throw parties for others.

“She would give away all but one or two pieces of her Halloween candy,” said Fisher. “On her birthday, she would always make sure everyone else was having fun.”

Braga was taking dance classes before she was diagnosed. She took second place (overall) for a solo she performed. She won’t be able to dance for a while, said her family. This past spring, she had to watch her dance buddies perform their dance school’s recital without her.

“She was OK, though,” said Fisher. “She was happy to see them shine and have fun.”

The family said what is most difficult to understand is that the young girl has always been energetic and healthy.

“It was such a surprise,” said her grandmother. “It happened out of the blue.”

The Gordons said that even now, when their granddaughter has to have blood drawn, she is smiling as she watches the vial fill.

The Gordons and Fisher said what the illness has done for the good is bring the entire family closer together.

“You focus on what’s important and forget the little stuff,” said Fisher.

“We’ve all gotten over the initial shock, sadness and disbelief,” Fisher added. “Now we have to look at this with a positive attitude for Charlotte. She’s positive, so we have to follow her lead.”

All that Charlotte Braga knows at this point is that a “bad bug” has attacked her body and she needs to fight hard.

Paying a large bill

Whatever happens, the family said treatments, travel and a possible bone marrow transplant are going to be costly.

The Gordons, Fisher and her husband Chuck, and family members Becky and Brian “Pooch” Puchalski will hold an authentic Scottish dinner fundraiser on Aug. 3 from 3 to 6 p.m. at White Eagle Picnic Area, 249 Plain Road in Greenfield to raise money to help with medical costs, which will most likely reach tens of thousands of dollars, said Fisher.

The menu will include fish and chips or chicken, coleslaw, drinks and desserts. There will be eat-in and takeout meals available.

The cost is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors 60 years old and older and $10 for children under 10. Tickets must be purchased by July 26.

For tickets, call the Gordons at 413-475-3913, the Fishers at 413-498-2615, Becky Puchalski at 413-522-7491 or Brian Puchalski at 413-219-5767.

There will be a 50-50 raffle and music. Raffle prizes will include gift certificates from several local hair salons, a free photography sitting with KLR Photography in Northfield, a cord of firewood, gift certificates to local restaurants, a $200 gift card to Target, season passes to Ja’Duke productions, a quilt by Cherie Rowald, numerous gift baskets and 100 ballerina cupcakes.

Braga and her cousins, 8-year-old Grace and 5-year-old Layla Fisher, will sell lemonade at the dinner.

Zangari and her husband will attend as will Braga’s father Rui and his wife.

How to donate

Donations may also be made to the Charlotte Braga Benefit Fund (Donald Gordon) #1631, care of Greenfield Savings Bank, 400 Main St., Greenfield, MA 01301.

Call GSB at 413-774-3191 or visit the bank at: www.greenfieldsavings.com.

Also donate through: www.gofundme.com. The goal of the family is to raise $30,000. They have raised more than $17,000 online.

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