By Lisa Barry, Contributing Writer
Westborough-As the Kotosky family, like much of New England, was waiting out the infamous Hurricane Sandy last October, they received a phone call that shook their home on a more personal level. Mark Kotosky, an eighth-grader at Gibbons Middle School had been diagnosed with leukemia and needed to start chemotherapy almost immediately.
“There were no red flags,” said Ruth Ann Kotosky, Mark's mother. “It's hard to know when he isn’t feeling well because Mark also has autism and is non-verbal.”
It took four rounds of chemotherapy in a span of three months, but Mark is now in remission.
“This is going to be a fight we are going to be going through for a long time,” she said.
Though the cancer treatment knocked Mark's leukemia down several levels, it took a toll on Mark's heart.
“We don’t know yet how much of the heart damage he will be able to recover,” Ruth Ann said. “A normal person's heart functions between 65 and 75 percent. Mark is functioning on about 25 percent.”
Despite all of the medical difficulties that have flooded the 14-year-old's life in just a few short months, Ruth Ann said Mark's spirits remain high. “He's always very happy, even when he was going through his chemotherapy. He was even able to keep the nurses laughing all of the time,” she said.
Ilyse Levine-Kanji, chair of the school board and mother of one of Mark's classmates, has spearheaded a Red Cross Blood Drive in Mark's honor. The blood drive will also serve as a fundraiser to help deflect some of the costs the Kotosky family has incurred.
“Ilyse asked me what the community could do to help, and I said I would like to have a blood drive,” Ruth Ann said. “Mark used over 36 units of blood platelets. If we can help make sure there is plenty of blood available for other kids, that's what we want to do. Blood saves lives.”
Levine-Kanji took the event to the next level by adding the fundraiser component.
“My son, Sam, and I were both very sad and felt helpless when we learned that Mark had been diagnosed with Leukemia,” Levine-Kanji said. “While we couldn’t do anything to ease Mark's physical suffering, we wanted to do something to ease his family's financial hardship and to let Mark's family know that they aren’t alone.”
The Kotoskys were reluctant to make the blood drive a fundraiser, Levine-Kanji said, but were very enthusiastic about the blood drive.
“I’m glad we’re going to be able to raise money to help the Kotosky family with some of their medical bills, while also collecting blood to help other people in need,” Levine-Kanji said.
“The people of Westborough have truly been amazing to us,” Ruth Ann said. “We had meals delivered to us, a church did our yard work in the fall — the whole community has really rallied around us.”
The blood drive will take place Tuesday, June 11, from 2 to 8 p.m. at the Westborough Senior Center, 4 Rogers Road. Monetary donations to help defray some of the Kotosky's medical expenses can be made to: The Kotosky Family Fund, c/o Central FCU, 714 Main St., Shrewsbury, MA 01545 or in person at the Westborough Branch, 40 South St.