Elmhurst nurses fund-raise for sick Floral Park child

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"They've been unbelievable," said McGonigle, who is on leave from her job as a nurse in the neonatal unit. "I've just been blown away by it."

On Tuesday her fellow nurses helped organize a daylong sale of Easter items and a raffle to raise money for Rory's care, following a similar effort by the hospital on Valentine's Day. Rory's birthday is Friday.

Future donations can be sent in the McGonigles' name to the hospital, said Debbie Cohen, a spokeswoman there.

Sitting on a living room couch in her Nassau County home next to Rory, who was too shy to speak with a visitor, McGonigle said her son's illness began innocuously.

"It just seemed like a headache," she said of the pains the child began feeling in early November. When the pain grew worse later that month, McGonigle took Rory to a pediatrician, but a physical examination did not reveal anything abnormal.

To be safe, Rory had an MRI on Dec. 17, and McGonigle got an urgent call the next day for her and Rory to come back in. Rory had a fast-growing brain tumor, and he was rushed from the neurologist to Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park for surgery the next day.

Doctors removed a large chunk of the tumor in the cerebellum section of his brain but were forced to leave a smaller part near the delicate brain stem.

Rory came home on Christmas Eve but was whisked back to the hospital because of fluid in his brain and now has a permanent shunt on the right side.

McGonigle said Rory had just finished a treatment of low-level chemotherapy last month but would have to go back for high-level doses after Easter. She is waiting for the next MRI to show her and the doctors how Rory is progressing.

"It's like a waiting game," McGonigle said. "You just kind of pray you'll get good news."

Rory played football every Sunday until that first MRI but now must be kept home from John Lewis Child, where he attended school. Earlier in the week he sat on the couch next to his beloved SpongeBob SquarePants stuffed cartoon characters and wore a SpongeBob T-shirt and SpongeBob Band-Aid on the finger where nurses had drawn blood.

"He doesn't understand why he can't go back to school," said McGonigle, who also has two older children in other schools. "It's kind of hard. He doesn't have anybody to play with anymore."

For now, Rory's teachers come once a week to visit, and his classmates have sent him a quilt with their names and designs on it.

McGonigle said her support comes from her husband and her colleagues at the hospital, who are intimately acquainted with Rory. He was, after all, born five weeks early and spent 10 days in their care while his mother was on maternity leave.

McGonigle is glad she has such connections but acknowledged that a medical background can be a mixed blessing during family illnesses.

"It's hard to know so much," she said. "Sometimes it's worse to have the knowledge."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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