Written by Rachel Shapiro Friday, 05 February 2010 00:00
Ann Torcivia’s son, Joey, passed away 10 years ago when he was six-and-a-half-years-old and in the first grade. Torcivia does all she can to keep his vibrant memory alive and this time around she is hosting a “blow out” fundraiser in conjunction with the Levittown Kiwanis and a Westbury woman who also turned loss into inspiration.
“Joey had aplastic anemia, a blood disease,” Torcivia told the Levittown Tribune. “They said he wasn’t going to live to be 1 year old. He lived to be 6 years old.”
“The day after I got him as his foster mother, I brought him to Nassau County Medical Center because he was coughing so bad that he could hardly breathe,” Torcivia, a resident and travel agent in Levittown, said. “He was there for two weeks.”
As a newborn, Joey was on a respirator. “It was horrible,” Torcivia said.
Although he was sick for most of his short life, Joey was a blessing to all who met him and a little ray of sunshine even in his darkest hours, she said. That’s why Torcivia and the Kiwanis are teaming up with another travel agent who has had to deal with the death of a loved one. Together, they are organizing a rather large fundraiser in memory of the two who have passed, Joey and Chris.
Christine Markus’ husband, Chris, passed away less than four years ago from a tragic fall at the age of 44. She is a Westbury resident, travel agent at Walters Travel and president of Travel Agents for Nassau and Queens. She wanted to do something special to remember her husband and since her friend Ann was organizing something as well, they decided to join forces.
Chris was “a man who adored children,” Torcivia said, and Joey was “a child who adored life.”
“My thought was two travel agents working together for a common cause,” Torcivia said.
“My husband was very charitable; if there was a cause, he was behind it and there was no cause too big or too small,” Markus told the Tribune.
“Pay it forward was his favorite expression. He was never about himself, ever. Since his passing I’ve been wanting to do something in his name and in his memory,” she said.
Torcivia, who owns Friends Travel in Levittown and is the president of the Levittown Chamber of Commerce and vice president of the Levittown Kiwanis, credits her business to the inspiration she got from Joey.
“My son died of complications of pneumonia,” she said. “When one door closes another opens. I started this business for Joey and it flourished.”
Torcivia opened her business five years ago, started off working with charities and continues to work with them presently.
Torcivia and Markus, along with the Levittown Kiwanis, are holding an almost year-long fundraiser whose goal is to send two people to Ireland for an extravagant trip and donate two pediatric trauma kits, one in Joey’s name and one in Chris’, through the Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Center at North Shore University Hospital. They also hope to give anything that comes in over $20,000 from the fundraiser to the trauma center as well.
The pediatric trauma kits are designed for small children because the normal equipment used at hospitals and by emergency personnel are for adults and too big for kids. A typical kit includes a pediatric immobilization board, a child BVM resuscitator, Broselow pediatric measure tape, 10 disposable face masks, infant and child blood pressure cuffs with gauges, a collar child stethoscope, a stuffed animal and more.
Torcivia, Markus and the Kiwanis are selling $10 raffle tickets until September 2010 for the fundraiser that will give away an eight-day “Spirit of Ireland” tour for two with airfare from JFK, a stay at a first-class hotel and 90 percent of meals paid. It’s about a $4,000 value Torcivia said.
“I said to Christine the other night ‘My goal is to sell 2,000 tickets. I’m not going to sleep until I sell them,’” Torcivia said.
“Joey made an impact on a lot of people but I don’t want it to be forgotten. So I needed to figure out what I needed to do to make it memorable,” she said.
She explained all of Joey’s past birthday parties as huge celebrations where hundreds of people attended because they never knew if he was going to have another one.
“Joey never did anything small. He did everything big,” Torcivia said. “If your kid has a fever, you give him two aspirins and send him to bed. My kid has a fever, he spends two weeks in the hospital.”
Throughout his life, riddled with health problems and frequent stays in the hospital, Joey was always upbeat and brave, Torcivia said.
“While he was in the hospital he would help all the little kids,” she said. “Joey would relay his experiences to them so they wouldn’t be scared. Whenever there was a kid who had to have a test, they’d call Joey and say, ‘Tell this kid it’ll be ok.’”
When Joey was alive, Torcivia lived in Westbury and Joey attended Bowling Green Elementary School, where Torcivia says Joey was blessed to have a great first grade teacher, Mrs. Pinelli.
“This was a teacher who was so amazing, was a first grade teacher, had a child in her class who was in a wheelchair, had an aide with him, was in the hospital 90 percent of the year,” Torcivia said. “He was the light of everybody’s eyes, especially the girls. She had to tell all the kids he was sick, tell them all he died. [Mrs. Pinelli] was great. They dedicated a tree to him where the whole first grade came and dedicated it to him.”
“To have to deal with that as a first grade teacher was amazing.”
Chris Markus’ life was also nothing short of amazing.
“Anybody that ever met him said there was something about him,” his wife said. “He had an aura that people just felt his goodness. He was an example of doing for other people, thinking about other people first. He would rally behind any cause.”
“I learned from him,” Markus said. “I guess everyone has a selfish streak; he didn’t.”
Functioning as a kick-off to the fundraiser, Torcivia will be holding her birthday celebration at PJ Finnegan’s in Levittown on Saturday, March 13 at 8 p.m. The band “Midlife Crisis” will perform, there will be a door prize for anyone who wears green and raffle tickets for the trip will be on sale there.
The cost is $30 for open bar for three hours and a corned beef and cabbage dinner. If you don’t drink, $5 at the door will get you in to listen to the band.
“Eat drink and be merry, Ireland style,” Torcivia explained.
Along with Torcivia and Markus, Mrs. Pinelli will be at the birthday bash/ fundraiser kickoff in March and will sell some tickets at the school.
With a collaborative effort from Torcivia, Markus and the Kiwanis and support from their Westbury and Levittown communities, Tocivia and Markus hope to make an impression on people, just as Joey and Chris did on them.
Chris was all about “doing for others in a way that he never expected anything back,” Markus said.
“What a good example in today’s society where everyone is me, me, me. He wasn’t.”