Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM Michael Pietroniro spent the last two years of his life living with his mother Carol at Boston Children's Hospital.
He had battled epilepsy until his death on Father's Day, June 17, 2007. He was 21 years old.
After two years at her son's bedside, Carol returned to her Feeding Hills home where her husband Vincent had been living and working as a firefighter in the Agawam Fire Department.
In an interview with Reminder Publications, Carol said upon her return home she received one unique arrangement among the floral tributes an arrangement with "pennies from heaven."
In memory of her son and in recognition of the one-year anniversary of his death, Carol has partnered with Agawam Public Schools to gather one million pennies $10,000 by June 6 during the Michael Pietroniro Memorial Fundraiser. The funds will go towards the purchase of a defibrillator for the school department, a memorial bench at the baseball field at School Street Park and the Children's Hospital, Carol said.
The new baseball field at School Street Park has already been dedicated in memory of Michael. His two favorite things in life were baseball and cutting grass, Carol said. Michael was granted the opportunity to watch field preparations at Fenway Park last March and also trimmed the bushes at the White House.
"My biggest fear has always been that people will forget my son," she said of her "need to keep his memory alive" through the fundraiser. "I don't want his suffering to be in vain. There must be a reason why he suffered for so long."
Carol's close friend Janet Shean, said, "She doesn't want Michael to be forgotten but little does she know that he touched so many lives that he'll never be forgotten."
Shean described Michael as a person who "touched so many lives. He would always have a smile on his face. He was such a good kids. He never had a negative word. He's just an inspiration to keep going."
Michael was developmentally delayed and functioned at the level of a seven- or eight-year-old, she explained. He was also physically handicapped.
Shean said her three children, now 27, 25 and 23 years old, "never thought of him as different" when growing up just a mile from one another. She explained that her youngest daughter Amiee and Michael were very close.
Her life has had an unusual parallel to her best friend's, Shean said as she tried to fight back tears. She explained that she would aid and support Carol during while Michael battled epilepsy and later pancreatitis caused by his epilepsy medication. Carol is now helping Shean with Amiee, who developed a sudden virus and swelling of the brain last year while Michael was at Children's Hospital.
Amiee was a senior at Framingham State College, when she called her mother with stomach pains, Shean explained. A mysterious virus attacked Amiee's brain and caused it to swell. Within 48 hours she became non-verbal and physically handicapped. She is currently living at home where Carol and Shean aid in her recovery through physical, occupational and speech therapies.
Shean said Michael and Amiee were so close that she was the only person he would let touch or ride his handicapped accessible bike. She added that she currently takes Amiee to ride his bike between therapy sessions.
"It [his bike] was just something that was his and wouldn't let anyone touch [but] they [Michael and Amiee] had a special bond," Shean said.
She said while working with Carol to promote the fundraiser, she hopes that students in the Agawam Public Schools and people throughout the Agawam community will again draw attention to Michael's extraordinary life and his ability to make everyone smile.
Superintendent Mary Czajkowski said she endorsed the fundraiser in each of the schools because "he was a great kid who loved life, loved school and coming to school. He was always a pleasure to have around."
Buckets have been placed at each of the Agawam public schools and pennies will be counted and deposited into the Michael Pietroniro Memorial Fund at United Bank.
Those in the community wishing to make donations can mail them to the Michael Pietroniro Memorial Fund, United Bank, 1325 Springfield St., Feeding Hills, MA 01030.
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