Transplant patient is hospitalized, but plans a ‘Super’ party


Masha Benitiz, the tiny Long Beach woman who underwent a double lung transplant last year, is back at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital this week, recovering from some infections, but her stay there won’t prevent her from attending a Make-A-Wish Foundation gathering at the Bright Rye Beer Co. on Polar Bear/Super Bowl Sunday Feb. 12.

Benitiz, 20, had been feeling poorly in recent weeks, and checked into the hospital for some tests to asses her condition, her mother, Michelle Quigley, said.

In a telephone interview from her hospital bed earlier this week, Benitiz said she had been feeling some pain. But her commitment to Make-A-Wish dates to when she was 5. Over the years, she said, she has collected about $130,000 for the organization, which helps fulfill the wishes of children between ages 2½ and 18.

“All the money I collect goes to Make-A-Wish,” Benitiz said. “I just give it to them” and they distribute it, she added.

Benitiz, who is just under 5 feet tall and weighs about 80 pounds, had been on a waiting list for a pair of new lungs for two years.  She was born in Russia to a woman who had to give her up for adoption, and the two have never met. Masha developed breathing problems at an orphanage in Russia, and was brought to the U.S. and admitted to Cohen Children’s Medical Center, in New Hyde Park, for heart surgery when she was 3. Her travels were paid for by the Gift of Life Inc., which was founded in 1975 by a Rotary Club in Brooklyn.

Quigley and her husband, Tony Benitiz, met Masha at the Ronald McDonald House at Cohen Children’s, and almost immediately decided they wanted to adopt her. But they met resistance from the Russian government, which opposes the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

The couple persisted, however, and brought the girl to their home in Long Beach when she was 5. But she remained a sickly child. She has suffered from veno-occlusive disease, a rare form of pulmonary hypertension, since childhood. Despite that, she was able to attend her prom at Lon Beach High School last spring, accompanied by her brother, Giancarlo, 18.

Adnan Etike, owner of Adnan’s  Custo sm Tailor Shop in Long Beach, who helped prepare Benitiz’s pink prom dress, was saddened earlier this week when he heard about her hospitalization.

“I wish her to be well and to enjoy her life,” Etike said. “She is a lovely girl. The parents support her the best way they can.”

People in Long Beach and nearby communities have always pulled for Benitiz. King Umberto’s, in Elmont, sent 10 pizzas to the nurses who cared for her, and the Long Beach Fire Department once did a drive-around tribute at her house, which brought her to tears.

Quigley said that her daughter had been making calls on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation from her hospital bed. The event at Bright Eye Beer, Quigley explained, will include a raffle that will be run by her daughter.

On Monday, Benitiz posted on Facebook, “Today is a big milestone for me. Today I have reached my 6 month lung anniversary. I am really grateful for these beautiful and healthy lungs. There are still challenges ahead for my heart. But I have come so far with rebuilding my strength. I want to thank all the people who have supported me and cheered me on … and my wonderful team of doctors and medical support staff who have made this process easier.

“I will always be grateful to my donor and her family,” Benitiz added, “who selflessly gave this gift to me.”