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Forest Hills bar holds fund-raiser for L.I. boy with brain tumor

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As adroitly as Philip Califano, 7, can rattle off information about race car drivers or voice his love for school — even homework — he can also explain, patiently, the “ball” in his head that has turned life upside down for his family.

That ball is a brain stem glioma, a tumor found mostly in children, that he was diagnosed with in July. Since then, Philip’s parents have had to leave their jobs to take care of him and they fly to St. Jude Children Research Hospital in Tennessee once every other month for treatment — all of which has taken a financial toll on the tight-knit family.

This is why the owner of a Forest Hills bar helped to sponsor a fund-raiser for the Long Island family last week.

Morrison’s Bar & Restaurant, named after its owner, Irish expatriate Declan Morrison, was packed Saturday night with relatives and friends of the Califanos, a family from Oceanside, L.I., determined to see their little boy beat an aggressive cancer.

“He’s a really special kid who has respect for everybody,” said Ed Califano, Philip’s father. “No matter who you are — old, young, whatever — if he sees you upset, he’ll come to help you. He’s great.”

A soft-spoken child who spent much of Saturday night with his arms wrapped around his parents, Philip will tell individuals the reason he had to undergo radiation and daily experimental chemotherapy is because of the “ball” in his head, said his mother, Lisa Califano.

“He understands everything that’s going on,” she said. “He’s an impressive boy. He says it’s the ball in his head that made him feel dizzy and gave him headaches.”

Individuals who attended the fund-raiser paid $10 at the door for the event that included music by a disc jockey, a buffet and raffle prizes. Ed Califano’s sister, Domenica Califano, also of Long Island, helped to organize the fund-raiser at Morrison’s because she knows the owner and the bar’s DJ, Gerry Storm of Star Trek Entertainment.

“This is every aunt’s worst nightmare,” she said of Philip’s illness. “But I believe in miracles and my nephew will be fine.”

The money raised will help the family, which also has a 1-year-old son, with transportation to Tennessee. St. Jude Hospital, a leading pediatric institution, accepted Philip’s case after his parents sent them a copy of his MRI and has since July paid for Philip and his mother to fly to Tennessee but has not paid for his father’s plane tickets.

“I have to be there with my little boy, though,” Ed Califano said. “There’s no way I can’t be there.”

Philip spent three months at St. Jude last summer to undergo extensive radiation and has since traveled to the site in Tennessee every other month so doctors can monitor his progress. He takes daily doses of an experimental chemotherapy.

Morrison, who also owns Tap Hause on Austin Street, said he may hold another event for the family in upcoming months.

“We wanted to support this because it’s a good cause,” Morrison said. “Everybody has to look out for each other.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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