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Community mourns the death of Olivia LoRusso


After a long and difficult illness, Olivia LoRusso, 12, lost her battle with leukemia at 1:46 a.m. on Sunday.

Two days before she died, Olivia’s mother, Shelley, wrote on her Facebook page that her daughter was asking for her ventilator to be removed. The LoRussos agreed, even though it would mean that Olivia would die within moments. “I actually begged her to keep it in one more day because I wasn’t ready to let her go,” Shelley wrote. “She flat out told me no, it’s coming out now.” So the family gathered at Olivia’s bedside to say their goodbyes to her.

In January, the Guardian reported on Olivia’s journey after her diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. At the time, doctors gave her only a 7 percent chance of surviving the cancer that was attacking her stem cells, which help distribute oxygen throughout the body. Three months after her diagnosis, Olivia underwent a painful, and ultimately unsuccessful, bone marrow transplant. Shelley praised her daughter’s ability to maintain a positive attitude despite her setbacks, and described her as “tough as nails.”

It was Olivia’s constant good nature and continued hope in the face of daunting odds that attracted an entire community of supporters. Shelley had to quit her job to care for Olivia full-time, and so the family set up a donation page to help make up for the loss of income and to help cover her endless medical bills. They received over $22,000.

Family friend Amy Nikolai, organized a fundraiser for the family in February, persuaded hundreds of residents to participate and raised thousands of dollars.

Afterward, the LoRussos traveled to St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., to attempt another bone marrow transplant. But Olivia was too weak and sick to undergo the surgery, and the family returned home.

Hoping for a miracle, but not expecting one, doctors removed Olivia’s ventilator on April 14. Contrary to the doctors’ predictions, she fought for her life for another 48 hours until finally succumbing. The community that came together to support her will now come together to mourn her loss.

Olivia loved to dance and cook. She was a constant source of support for her sisters and had an unshakable faith in God. In addition to her mother, she is survived by her father, Robert, sisters Gianna and her twin, Sabrina; and grandparents Michael and Mary Herman and Jean LoRusso.

The family planned to receive friends at the Shelter Rock Church, at 178 Cold Spring Road in Syosset, on Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral service will be held on Saturday, at 11:30 a.m., at St. Dominic’s R.C. Church, 93 Anstice St. in Oyster Bay.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Olivia Hope Foundation, 375 Jericho Turnpike, Syosset, N.Y. 11791. All donations will be given to the AML and Bone Marrow Research Foundations.