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Benefit for LIJ cancer ward planned at Belmont Pk.

Richard Mark Smith died in 1990 after he received an HIV-tainted blood transfusion.

At the time, little could have saved him, but his family believes Smith's final months at the Hematology-Oncology unit at Long Island Jewish Medical Center could have been more comfortable. Next Sunday, as they have done every year since his death, they will hold a benefit at Belmont Park to make sure others being treated there do not suffer.

"We try to offer anything and everything that could benefit any patient who is undergoing treatment to improve their lives while they're there," said Richard's father Alvin, a resident of Whitestone.

The 14th annual Richard Mark Smith "Day at the Races" will be held Sunday, June 1, at Belmont. Admission is $80, and all funds collected will go toward magazines, VCRs, portable telephones and other creature comforts for seriously ill patients at LIJ's Hematology-Oncology unit.

Alvin Smith said that too little attention was focused on making patients comfortable while they are in the hospital, especially cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, AIDS patients and others who may be in significant discomfort.

"During those hours that they are under treatment, they would just lie in their own misery," he said.

Dr. Kanti Rai, chief of the hematology-oncology unit at LIJ, blamed the problem on limited budgets that often forced hospitals to put medical needs before patient comfort. He cited the lack of a railing at the building's entrance - something that made life difficult for Richard when he was treated at LIJ.

"He had nowhere to hold on to from the curbside to the door," Rai recalled. "These are the physical amenities which ought to have been provided."

Thanks to the fund, there is now a metal railing extending about 20 feet from the curb to the front door of the building.

And inside the hematology-oncology suite on the third floor, each of the 23 station where patients receive treatment has its own television, connected to a VCR or DVD player. Patients can select the film they want from a listing compiled by a former patient. There are more than 200 titles, including many recently released feature films.

"It passes the time and makes it go much quicker," said Mary Paul, a nurse who sees to patients in the unit.

Smith said the annual "Day at the Races" raises about $15,000 each year. Separate donations to the Richard Mark Smith Fund are also accepted throughout the year.

The most recent improvements at LIJ made possible by the fund include automated doors that make it easier for wheelchair-bound patients to travel around the hospital and an awning at the oncology wing to shelter patients in inclement weather.

Smith said the family chose to hold the benefit at Belmont Park because as a child Richard often accompanied his father to the races. He would have been 50 this year.

"It's not something that is fancy, like millions of dollars," Dr. Rai said. "But it makes a hell of a difference for the quality of life for the person who is going through torture."

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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