One night in October 2019, Anthony got a phone call from Gianna, who was in her bedroom across the hall. She couldn’t move. When he came to her, she was slurring her words. Anthony called 911, and she was brought to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where they discovered that she had suffered a brain hemorrhage and needed emergency surgery. “I’m thinking, ‘G’s 20 and having a stroke?’ It wasn’t making sense to me,” remembers Anthony.
After surgery, doctors confirmed the reason behind the stroke-like symptoms: a brain tumor. This time, it was glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer. The prognosis was not good, but Gianna wasn’t going to give up. In the following months, she underwent radiation, chemotherapy, and physical therapy. And even as the city faced the COVID-19 pandemic, the siblings continued to receive care and support from the team they had grown to love and trust over the years. “We weren’t going to go down without a fight,” says Anthony. “It was tough, but we made every day count.”
Says Dr. Garvin, “She remained active and never lost her spark.”
For many months, Gianna remained strong, but in May 2020, when she became too ill to stay at home, Anthony decided to bring her back to NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital for her care. “We spent the last three months of her life here,” says Anthony. “G trusted me to make every decision, so to me, coming here was an easy decision, even though it was hard. We felt so comfortable here.”
Gianna celebrated her 21st birthday in the hospital. Anthony brought her a can of beer so that they could toast the occasion. She passed away 13 days later on August 29, 2020. Her impact on her care team is felt to this day.
“Just to watch her grow from a girl to become a young woman, I feel very honored that I had that opportunity,” says Nadine Ulysse, a child life specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “And I’m so happy that I was a part of so many happy moments. Although she was battling cancer, she rarely complained. And I think we all learned a lot from Gianna. We learned the fight, we learned how to turn things around, and every bad day isn’t so bad. We just remember the joy that she had.”