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Region rallies around Shriners Hospital

Date: 4/21/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Thomas Lacaprucia of Chicopee said all of the doctors who saw his daughter Antoinette were stumped about the pain the little girl felt in her ankle and leg and attributed it to being a sprain.

The pain didn't go away and it wasn't until Thomas took his daughter to the Shriners Hospital for Children that the correct diagnosis was made: juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Thomas said his daughter now receives injections and the disease has been arrested.

Antoinette was one of the hospital's patients who spoke in support of the hospital on the front lawn of the Springfield Boys and Girls Club on Sunday afternoon. She said if the hospital was closed "it would make me very sad."

Hundreds of people turned out for a moving two-hour rally to show community support for the facility. The Springfield hospital is one of six of the 22 hospitals the Shriners operate nationwide that may be closed due to a $3.2 billion loss in the hospital's endowment fund suffered through Wall Street reverses.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, State Reps. Thomas Petrolati, Brian Ashe and Sean Curran and Springfield City Councilors Kateri Walsh, James Ferrera, Bruce Stebbins and Tim Rooke were present.

Petrolati noted the reputation the hospital has built "isn't confined here in the Valley; it's known through the Commonwealth."

The lawn was a sea of people dotted with the maroon fezzes of Shriners in the audience. Along Carew Street members of the Latin American Motorcycle Association had parked their bikes and held signs to the passing motorists, most of which honked their horns in support.

There were activities for children such as face painting as well as volunteers seeking signatures with petitions that will be presented to the board that meets in July to will make the decision about the hospital's fate.

Passing through the audience were young people who had received treatment at Shriners who carried a large sign filled with before and after photos of children who have been patients.

Valerie and David Pinciak of Belchertown said they would have to go to Boston to finish the treatment their adopted twins need for a their cleft lip and palates if the hospital closes.

"This is an absolutely wonderful facility," Valerie said.

Their children, five-year-old Andrew and Natalia, have had two surgeries but need more and David said without the Shriners Hospital those treatments would pose "a major financial hardship."

Valerie said she and her husband participate in fundraising efforts and that their fathers both volunteer at the hospital.

On a raised stage, Debra Latour, a therapist at the hospital, spoke about her own experience. She was born without one arm and started receiving treatment from the hospital when she was three months old. She held her first prosthetic arm, which she received when she was one and half years old.

What she received from her treatments from the hospital was "empowerment," she said.

"Mayor Sarno said [the hospital] is a matter of the heart. Everything that happens at Shriners is a matter of the heart," Latour said.

Al Zippin, the chairman emeritus of the Board of the Governors of the Shriners Hospital, Springfield, acted as the master of ceremonies and appealed to the audience not only to sign the petition, but to also send a letter or e-mail to Ralph Semb, Chairman of the Shriners Hospital Board of Trustees, in care of the Shriners Hospital for Children, 516 Carew St., Springfield, MA 01104 or at

More information on the hospital and the effort to save it can be found at