A Gift That Keeps on Giving


by Joseph DeGweck
Cover Photo by Cheryl Gorski


Have you ever wondered as you frolicked on the sideline of a parade; just whom are those grown men, with those strange hats, riding around in those mini-cars? They are the Shriners, and the reason they do it, “its all for the children”!!! This story is about a family and their child, Anthony, whose lives have been so positively impacted by the dedication of these mini-car riders. This impact and this dedication are foreshadowed only by the newfound hope, that wasn’t always there, and by the future of smiles and laughter that are now possible.

Anthony is a seven year old who was born with spina bifida. Anthony’s condition left him with a dismal outlook for the future. The day after he was born he was back in surgery. His mother, Mrs. Colleen Mazella, shares that Anthony was “poked and prodded and tested so often” that every time they pulled up to a building that looked like a doctors office or a hospital, Anthony would begin to cry and often became so upset that he would become sick and vomit. Today, this is no longer the case. Today, Anthony, whom I am first meeting, entered the room with a smile on his face and a radiant spirit that only a happy seven year could convey. He was excited about getting his picture taken with his family and his friends, Douglas Blajszczak, Potentate, and Larry Hawley, Chief Rabban, of the Shriners. Anthony’s original prognosis, of being bedridden for the rest of his life and of developing sores over parts of his body, was transformed. He was now a confident, enthusiastic and mobile child that was doing what all seven year olds do, having fun.


About four years ago Colleen Mazella was asked by her sister to meet with the Shriners in order to seek help for the medical needs of her son, Anthony. Colleen and her husband, Dominic, were both skeptical, but as all parents would, they decided to pursue this on behalf of their son. Dominic and Colleen were concerned with the ongoing trauma that Anthony was experiencing in his relationship with doctors and hospitals. They questioned, “Why would he need more doctors” and “why would I want to go all the way to Erie, Pennsylvania”? Their questions were soon answered. After touring the hospital in Erie, and after having their son evaluated by the staff, Colleen and Dominic realized that their son, Anthony, “wanted to be there”.

Over the next four years and after many surgeries and multiple days and weeks of rehabilitation; the only time that Anthony cries now is when he has to leave his friends at the Shriners Ortopedic Hospital for Children in Erie, Pennsylvania. It was at this facility that Anthony received the tools that were needed to help him overcome his extraordinary challenges. Not just the specially designed orthopedic braces that would allow him to stand. Not just the custom made wheel chair that made his mobility so much more of a comfort. Anthony received the emotional support from the patients and staff that enabled him to live his childhood. He played games with other children. Together they would build puzzles and draw pictures. They would compare casts; from the pink ones to the ones with the flags or animals. “They thought it was so neat”. It was within this haven of sharing that the children would create a common bond and construct a covenant that collectively helped them in overcoming their challenges. A friendship wrapped in smiles, an alliance draped in sounds of laughter, and a union of camaraderie sealed by the tears of joy shared with friends, family and staff. It was here that confidence was fixed and independence conceived. It was here that fear was defeated and ignorance abolished. It was here that Anthony learned to live, laugh and grow. And it is from here that Anthony will transcend life’s’ inequities to become a man through the experience of childhood. Oh! What a happy man he should be.

As we consider the events that have enriched Anthony’s life we must also consider the 3,000 other children and their families that have been helped in this area over the past five years. We must consider the other areas of dedication to children that are provided by the Shriners. From the burn treatment hospitals to the prosthetic devices that have been researched and developed. The arranging for the child’s educational needs to be provided. The transportation of family and patients to the hospitals. The rehabilitation and therapy needed for full and proper recovery of the children, after treatment. These are just a few of the other services provided by the Shriners in their effort to “heal the world one child at a time”, such as Anthony.

Larry Hawley, Chief Rabban of the Ismalia Shriner facility on Southwestern Blvd. in Orchard Park, is second in command at that center.. He tells me that there are 15-20 trips a month provided for the transportation of patients from here to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Erie, Pa. Five patients are currently enrolled and are transported to the Cincinnati, Oh. Shriners Hospital for specialized burn treatment. $60,000 of travel expense is accrued annually.

Now let us consider that there are 22 such Hospitals throughout the United States. Let us consider that there is never a cost to any patient or their family. Let us consider that the only criteria for treatment is that the patient is a child up to the age of 18 and that the hospital and its staff will be able to help the medical condition that exists.

My parents taught me that in order to truly be able to give a gift; you must also know how to receive. Today this ideal was once again reinforced when I saw Anthony and his family and the impact that they had on the Shriners that were there. I found out just what they meant when I asked Anthony:

“What was the most fun you had with the Shriners?”

He shyly covered the one side his face, leaned over and whispered so secretively with a smile and a chuckle that tickled and comforted me

“The hot dog eating contest, I ate four and they taught me how to burp the ABC’s”

What a wonderful kid; what a wonderful life and what a wonderful gift he has given us all. I thank you!!!
I also want to give a special thank you to Alexander, Anthony’s younger brother. For all the help he gave us today and for sharing his family time with us.

Click here for part II of this story

Anthony Mazella
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Anthony and Alexander
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
The Mazella family
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Douglas Blajszczak and Anthony
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Anthony Mazella
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
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