Leukemia patient Matthew Russo, 7, dies

Matthew Russo, 7, of Kings Park, died on Matthew Russo, 7, of Kings Park, died on Jan. 3, 2013. Photo Credit: Handout

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Matthew Russo loved younger children, rushing up to hug babies whenever he saw one.

He loved Elmo, and he watched a Muppets movie over and over again.

He also loved school, though illness stopped him from going in the past year.

Matthew died Jan. 3 at his Kings Park home after a battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He was 7.

Born with Down syndrome, Matthew was diagnosed with cancer at age 2.

He endured years of chemotherapy with unshakable verve, his parents said.

Matthew's doctors had "been giving him a week to live since October of 2011," said his mother, Audra Russo.

His will to live was strong, and every day with him was a gift, she said.

"Everyone knew of his struggle. Everyone rooted for him," his father, Phil Russo, said Wednesday. "Whether he was suffering, whether he was in pain, whether he was in the hospital, you could not take the smile from his face."

Audra Russo added: "He must have thought it was normal to be in such pain. I don't have one picture of him frowning. He's smiling in every one."

Matthew attended preschool at ACDS Inc., a Plainview program for students with Down syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities.

He also attended Northport Nursery School, the Developmental Disabilities Institute in Huntington and Fort Salonga Elementary School in Northport.

"I call him my beautiful angel," Audra Russo said. "When he physically touched people, they would feel better. His grandmother used to say, 'My knee hurts, I need Matthew to touch it.' "

Matthew relished attending Long Island Ducks games and watching Elmo on his iPad.

His speech therapist, Kristin Goldstein, of Mineola, built their sessions around Elmo.

"I was teaching him how to talk, but what I didn't realize was that he was really teaching me how to be resilient," Goldstein said.

"We actually compared him to a locomotive engine," Phil Russo said. "My daughter nicknamed him 'Chuggs.' He was slow and certain, but there was no way you could stop him. It was incredible to watch."

Matthew also is survived by his sister, Jade, 11, and brother, Nicholas, 20; and grandparents Guy and Carol Russo, of East Northport, and Ira and Marcia Cohen, of Boynton Beach, Fla.

Services have been held. He was buried at Commack Cemetery.

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