After Peter Ieraci’s daughter Isabella was diagnosed with stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma in June 2015, he said there were times he wasn’t sure she would make it to her preschool graduation.
On Wednesday, Ieraci watched as 3-year-old Isabella received a diploma from Hicksville’s Morgan Center, a nonprofit preschool for children undergoing cancer treatment.
“She should have been doing this anyway, and so this is almost like saying she’s normal,” said Ieraci, of Floral Park. “ . . . Just making it to [this] milestone, you know, you celebrate the wins.”
Nancy Zuch and her husband, Rod, opened the Morgan Center in 2003, after more than 2 1⁄2 years of chemotherapy treatment left their daughter Morgan, now 18, with a suppressed immune system. During that time, Morgan could not attend school and be exposed to the germs present in classrooms, so “she was either home or at the hospital,” Zuch said.
The Morgan Center aims to allow kids with cancer to learn and socialize in a safe and clean environment, she said, giving them “a part of their childhood that Morgan did not have.”
The center celebrated its 14th graduation and “moving up” ceremony Wednesday in the Hicksville Athletic Center. About 15 students in the class of 2017 performed songs with their music teacher before receiving a diploma and taking photos. Some students will be returning to the center next year, while others are now healthy enough to attend kindergarten or other schools.
“For other families, this is just a normal day,” Zuch said. “And for these families, they’re so appreciative to be here.”
Michael Singh’s two sons, King and Mesiah, both attend the Morgan Center and participated in Wednesday’s ceremony. King, 3, has high-risk leukemia and a compromised immune system, and his 2-year-old brother can’t go to “regular school” in case he brings germs home, Singh said.
The Queens Village resident called the Morgan Center “a blessing.”
“Cancer takes a lot away from the families, and this gives back something that we appreciate so much,” he said.
Maryellen Borghese’s daughter Annie, now 15, attended the Morgan Center while she received treatment for high-risk leukemia as a preschooler.
Borghese returned to the center as a teacher about five years later as a way to “pay them back for everything they did when Annie was here,” she said.
For the Massapequa resident, working at the center “puts life into perspective every single day.”
“To see these children and what they’re going through, it brings me back to what I went through, and it makes you realize what’s important in life,” she said.