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Back home for his final rest

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published February 28, 2007


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In death, Steve Crespo will get what eluded him during his 10 years of life. A trip back home.

Steve died last week at All Children's Hospital, more than two years after his Honduran parents brought him to America in search of a miracle. After battling lung problems since 2004, Steve died of kidney failure, his family said.

Tuesday he was flown back to Honduras. His funeral service will be held in the Puerto Cortes house to which he had yearned to return, said his mother, Ana Barnica, 39.

"He wanted to go back to Honduras, with his family," she said.

Barnica, who rarely left her son's bedside as he battled lung problems, said she feels lost.

Steve's story was not supposed to end this way, she said, speaking through her daughter Michelle, 15, who learned English while attending Gibbs High School.

Her dream was to take home a healthy boy.

Steve was diagnosed with mycoplasma pneumonia in 2004, an illness his parents believe he contracted from unsanitary water that flooded the area around his Catholic school in Honduras.

In November 2004, in an act of desperation rooted in an apparent misunderstanding, Barnica and Steve's father brought the boy to America. They said an American physician had promised to help.

The flight caused Steve to go into respiratory distress and American Airlines called an ambulance to take him to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. Someone arranged for him to be transferred to All Children's, which was not expecting the child.

All Children's doctors gave Steve's parents grim news. He was too ill for a lung transplant. The only thing to be done was to stabilize him so he could go home to die.

"This is in the top three of the most difficult, tragic cases I've seen," David Gerber, at the time the hospital's administrative director of patient and family services, said then.

Steve's parents refused to give up. His condition seemed to stabilize late in 2005. Doctors, who said he had bronchiolitis obliterans, an inflammation of the lungs, held out hope that he would survive.

On Sunday, his mother clutched a half-filled album of photos of Steve taken in the hospital. In most, he's got a wide grin. "He was in the fourth grade. All his grades were A's and B's," she said, her eyes filling with tears.

During their stay in America, which began at Ronald McDonald House, the family depended heavily on financial help from well-wishers. They also were helped by Jesica's Hope Chest, a foundation for critically ill children in North Carolina, Catholic Charities, Pinellas Community Church and other groups.

All Children's provided Steve with services of nearly $7-million.

"We absorbed it as part of our operation. This is an example of the type of charity care that All Children's provides," said Roy Adams, a hospital spokesman.

The hospital held a gathering Friday to remember the boy they'd grown to love during his 27-month stay. Nurses came, but so did respiratory therapists, dietary workers and staff from housekeeping.

"It was a very emotional time for our staff," said Gerber, now director of pastoral care. "He was a little guy who actually had a huge impact on the hospital."

Steve's room was kept empty for a day, he said.

The boy's family was invited to attend, Gerber said, but Steve's mother was too distraught. His sister, Michelle, and two half brothers from Miami, thanked the staff for all they had done.

"And the hospital family was able to give them a hug," Gerber said. "It was a pretty amazing end to a pretty amazing story."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 892-2283 or moore@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 27, 2007, 20:33:27]


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