“Gifts From the Sea” was the theme Long Beach Catholic Regional School chose for its 2007-08 school year.
For one of its Spanish teachers, the phrase ended up meaning so much more.
Long Beach native Karen Danca-Smith, 37, had her son, Gavin, in 2007, and just four months into his life discovered there was something wrong with him. Every time she or her husband, Andrew, 39, touched his left leg the baby would scream. They took him to his pediatrician, who forwarded them to an orthopedist, and then Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
“We knew, when you are at the ‘peds’ center at Sloan-Kettering you need to brace yourself. It could be cancer,” she said.
Danca-Smith spent much of the two weeks she waited for Gavin’s diagnosis in prayer.
“They did a biopsy and found the tumors in his leg were benign, but they [the tumors] had shattered his tibia,” she said.
The doctors removed the tumors and replaced Gavin’s tibia with a cadaver bone that was filled and wrapped with pieces of coral from a reef so the bone would grow as the infant did. She attributes Gavin’s diagnosis to God answering her prayers and the prayers of her friends and family.
Danca-Smith also co-hosts “Good News,” a television show on Telecare, the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s television channel. The show had LeAnn Thieman, one of the authors of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, as a guest late last year to talk about the series’ upcoming “Answered Prayers” edition. Danca-Smith told Thieman her story, and then wrote it for the book. “Gifts From the Sea” was published in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Answered Prayers,” which hit shelves Tuesday.
“I knew I wanted to write this down,” she said. “I want as many people to read it as possible because it’s such a hope-filled story.”
Before taking her position at Long Beach Catholic Regional School, Danca-Smith was at St. John the Baptist in West Islip, where she taught Spanish and was a cross-country coach. Now she is running her first New York City Marathon Nov. 6 on “Fred’s Team,” named after Fred Lebow, a co-founder of the marathon who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1990 and was treated at Sloan-Kettering. To be on the team, participants have to raise a minimum of $3,500 for the hospital. Danca-Smith has raised about $6,000 so far through her page on www.fredsteam.org.
“My message would be not to lose hope,” she said of anyone going through something like this. “Pray, spread the word, and don’t say no when people offer help.”