Although thousands of children delight in the sights and sounds of the annual Bordentown Old City Hall holiday model train show each year, one youngster was granted a special visit on Dec. 13.
Luca Palmisano, 2, who was diagnosed with Alveolar Capillary Dysplasia (ACD) shortly after birth, a terminal illness, received a life-saving bilateral lung transplant at 4 months old and is continuously making the most of each day.
Given Luca’s affection toward “Thomas the Tank Engine” and trains, his parents, Tom and Ashley, knew a visit to the popular Bordentown train show was a must-see for him, but given his illness, his health could be at risk if they were to visit the crowded event on a weekend.
With help from family friends and the model train show’s organizers, the Old City Hall was opened on a weekday evening exclusively for Luca.
“It’s absolutely amazing because he really enjoys ‘Thomas the Tank Engine,’ ” Ashley said. “The first year was really rough for us for him being a newborn and having the transplant, but now he’s starting to grow up a bit, having milestones and enjoying things.”
Having undergone lung transplant surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia at 4 months of age, Ashley said Luca is not only the youngest person to ever receive a lung transplant in the hospital’s history, but is also one of the youngest people to receive one in the world as well.
Given the success of the transplant, Tom and Ashley said Luca is faced with multiple health challenges each week, having dealt with rejection scares, continuous doctors’ visits, chemotherapy treatment and multiple surgeries.
“We continue to overcome challenges every day. We are going through a little bit of a rejection phase right now,” Ashley said. “[Luca] just finished five doses of chemo and I think having these types of moments gives us hope for the future and really good memories. We don’t know what to expect, so every day is a blessing. We’re very lucky. He’s here and he’s doing great.”
Alongside his sister, Ariana, 4, Luca paid close attention to the massive model train setups in the room as Tom and Ashley lifted him up to see the mounted displays.
“This is an outrageously nice gesture of [the train show organizers] to let us come here today,” Tom said. “It’s a challenge for [Luca] to be in public spaces because of all the challenges associated with bringing a sick kid out in public, so the fact they took time out of their day to open this [up to us] when it wasn’t even open, it’s just more generous than I could ever hope for.”
Not only was the evening gathering a joyful moment for the Palmisano family, but Luca’s night would become even more special when he received a toy train set from event organizers Joe Malone and Zig Targonski.
Malone, who has been coordinating the annual train show for the past nine years alongside Targonski, said that as much pleasure as he takes in each child’s gleam of excitement at the show, seeing Luca’s reaction that night was significant.
“This is what it’s all about. If you can bring joy to a little kid like [Luca], everything else is second,” he said. “If he and his family can have some memories of this, that’s the important thing. We’ve seen so many kids’ faces burst [at this show] when they smile, and you can’t even explain it.”