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Rockville Centre child's cancer battle inspires others

Buddy Abrams and his family to be honored at fundraiser for Mr. B's Playground

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John Buddy Abrams, 6, is a first-grader at Francis F. Wilson Elementary School.
John Buddy Abrams, 6, is a first-grader at Francis F. Wilson Elementary School.
Courtesy Wendy Abrams

A few days after Buddy Abrams’s first birthday in 2013, doctors discovered a tumor in his brain stem.

“It’s essentially the worst tumor you can have in the worst way you can have it,” said his mother, Wendy. “Nobody ever thought that he’d be around today, and he’s doing beautifully. It’s a wonderful miracle story.”

John Buddy Abrams, 6, who goes by his middle name, and his family, of Rockville Centre, will be honored at the village Lions Club’s Laughing with the Lions fundraiser at Molloy College on March 2. Proceeds from the event will go to Mr. B’s Playground, an all-inclusive park to which the Lions and other community members have been donating for several years.

Joan MacNaughton, president of the Lions Club, noted that the organization, with help from the Tommy Brull Foundation and private donors, has raised more than $350,000 to date for the playground, which is expected to cost about $1 million. The community is awaiting a $500,000 state grant for the park before breaking ground, as well as a $75,000 grant from the International Lions Club once it are ready to build. MacNaughton said she was hopeful the village could start building within a year.

The playground, to be named after longtime Recreation Superintendent Anthony Brunetta, known as Mr. B, who died in 2016, was originally planned to stretch from the northwest corner of Sunrise Highway and North Forest Avenue to the right-field fence of Hickey Field’s smaller baseball diamond. It will now be built next to the John A. Anderson Recreation Center, where there is less noise, ample parking and easier access to restrooms, according to officials.

“We have dedicated everything that we’re doing now in raising funds to only go toward the all-inclusive park,” MacNaughton said, so that “everyone can partake and enjoy themselves together.”

Wendy Abrams said that Mr. B’s Playground would provide a place for children with special needs to play with others without disabilities, which is a rare opportunity. She recalled Buddy’s diagnosis: “Literally the first thing that went through my head is my kid is going to pass away and he’s never been on a swing,” she said.

Soon after the initial prognosis, that Buddy had just three to six months to live, his mother contacted the Children’s Wish Foundation, who paid for a swing designed for children with special needs at the Recreation Center. Dime Community Bank paid for an additional swing for Buddy at Riverside Elementary School, which is now at Francis F. Wilson Elementary School, where Buddy is a first-grader.

Though he has endured two brain surgeries and five years of chemotherapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, Wendy said he is done with treatment for now. Buddy is a “trouper,” and has stayed active, she added, despite his cancer. He loves dancing, video games and playing in Rockville Centre’s TOPSoccer program, which is designed for children with special needs and runs each Sunday at William S. Covert Elementary School.

“He does it all; he has the best personality,” Wendy said. “He’s always happy. He’s been through so much and he just never complains.”

Pat Quinn, a member of the Lions Club, said that Buddy and his family are perfect honorees for the March 2 fundraiser, because they will be among those who use Mr. B’s playground, which is being built so “kids with disabilities can be just like any other kid . . . They are like any other kid,” she noted. Quinn is the community outreach manager for the Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County, which runs the Children’s Learning Center in Roosevelt, where Buddy used to go to school.

“He was very funny and enthusiastic, and you were just inspired by knowing him and seeing how hard he always tried,” said Quinn, who met the Abrams family through the school.

She recalled Buddy participating in the CLC’s ballet club, dancing with the help of his walker, and playing on the school’s miniature baseball field. When he graduated from the school to move to the Rockville Centre School District, Quinn added, “I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place.”

The Laughing with the Lions fundraiser, to be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at Molloy College’s Hays Theatre, will feature stand-up comedians Paul Anthony, Jean Kim, Stevie G.B. and Rich Walker. Tickets can be purchased at www.rvclions.com.

In addition to honoring Buddy, Wendy, her husband, Jonathan, and their daughters Casey, 14, and Sydney, 11, the Lions Club will recognize Mid-Island Collision. Its owner, Robert Jesberger, bought the Abrams family a trip to Disney World in 2013. “They told me that the trip was a miracle trip,” Jesberger told the Herald, “and I said, ‘Wow, well, you have no idea what that represents to me . . . because what I did is not a ripple in the water.’”

MacNaughton said that Buddy is expected to speak at the event, at which a crowd of several hundred people is anticipated. “He’s living proof that you can overcome these challenges,” she noted. “. . . He just raises your spirits, and makes you so happy to say, ‘Wow, look what he’s overcome.’”