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Frankie Goes to Washington
01/07/11

Frankie Flora has met the president, lobbied a U.S. Senator and been interviewed on "Good Day New York" alongside Miss America – and he’s just 6 years old.

With his trademark bandana and irresistible grin, Frankie Flora couldn't be a better ambassador for the Children's Miracle Network, a not-for-profit organization that raises funds for premier children’s hospitals like Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. As the New York State representative in the Children's Miracle Network program "Champions presented by Walmart and Sam’s Club," Frankie traveled with 54 other "Champions" to Washington, D.C., in early June to highlight the need to support children's hospitals.

"It was great. I got to meet the president," says Frankie, who began first grade at Overlook Elementary School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in September.

The "Champions," all children who have bravely battled severe injuries or illnesses, were given a tour of the White House. President Barack Obama met with each of the "Champions," a group that included children with genetic disorders, cancer, heart transplants and traumas.

In his role as the New York "Champion," Frankie met with New York Sen. Kristin Gillibrand in her office and later had lunch with her. The "Champions" were also guests at a Nationals baseball game where they had the thrill of meeting "American Idol" runner-up David Archuleta, who sang the national anthem. Each of the children is a living testament to the high quality of medical care provided by the 170 hospitals the Children's Miracle Network supports.

"It was really an honor to represent the Children's Miracle Network and Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. I hope our voices and interviews raise awareness of the need to support children's hospitals because when it is life or death, you really want the best care," says Maria Flora, Frankie's mom.

This year was Walmart and Sam’s Club’s second as the "Champions" program’s title sponsors, although Walmart has been supporting the Children's Miracle Network since 1987.

Prior to the Washington, D.C., trip, Frankie was feted by employees at Sam’s Club in Fishkill, N.Y. With about 50 family members and friends in attendance and several members of the media looking on, Frankie and his mom, uncle and grandparents arrived at the store in a Mercedes Benz limousine, donated by LA Limousine. Sam’s Club employees waited at the door and greeted Frankie with the type of cheers usually reserved for World Series Champions or rock stars. He was also presented with a $500 gift card from Walmart to help with supplies for the trip. In August, Frankie served up ice cream at a Dairy Queen participating in Children’s Miracle Network's national "Miracle Treat Day."

For Frankie, however, the best is yet to come. In November, the "Champions" will continue their ambassador duties on a trip to Disney World in Florida.

A Long Road, a Resilient Kid
During the first procedure, surgeons grafted donated skin onto Frankie's face and scalp just to close up his wounds. The second surgery was to re-graft areas of his scalp. With the third surgery, Dr. Alessi grafted skin from Frankie's leg to his forehead. The most recent surgery, which included five procedures done over more than eight hours, was to revise the scars on his cheek and raise the corner of his eye.

"When you are young, you have a remarkable ability to heal," says Dr. Alessi. “He is looking better all the time."

Although there are many more surgeries in his future, Frankie has no horrific-looking scars, no paralysis and no lasting damage to the parotid gland. And despite all the damage to his facial nerves, he can smile and laugh as a 6 year old should.

Maria says she is grateful not just for the expert surgical care her son has received but for the services and people who have made his multiple hospitalizations bearable.

"I can’t say enough good things about everyone who works in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) and on the third floor – the nurses, the surgeons, the entire staff. Everybody who works there is amazing," says Maria.

Frankie was in the hospital for six weeks after the accident and he has been back a number of times since then. "It's tough each time he has to go back to the hospital because he knows he is going to be in pain, but the Child Life specialists and the nurses really help. They have so many ways of distracting him with games and music and visitors," says Maria.

Meet the Mayor
Of course, much of the credit for Frankie's recovery belongs to Frankie and his indomitable spirit. During his many weeks in the hospital, Frankie became known as "the mayor" for his practice of talking to all the other patients and serving as a guide to the newly admitted.

"Frankie would show everyone the ropes," says Maria. "He would say, 'This is how to play video games and this is where you go to do art projects'. He wanted to help other kids get through all the sadness and the pain and the hurt."

For all these reasons and many more, Frankie was chosen to represent New York State in the Children's Miracle Network "Champions" Program, presented by Walmart and Sam's Club, which honors remarkable children from around the country who have triumphed despite severe medical challenges. As a "Champion" Frankie traveled to Washington, D.C., in the spring and will visit Walt Disney World this fall.

 

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