Home > Expat Life > Health > Relocating with hope: The story of Michelangelo

Six months went by since we published this article that we invite you to read again on this special update on “Extra-ordinary lives abroad”. The reason that led Michelangelo’s parents to move abroad is really quite different – fortunately, in a sense – from what typically pushes families to relocate. We take the opportunity to give you an update on the situation of Michelangelo. Shortly before their departure there were some unexpected and even painful turns (the young priest who had worked so hard on the fundraising committee died in his sleep at 36)… A few days before their departure for Palo Alto, thanks to all the contacts the priest had looked for, the family was contacted by an hospital in Boston that offered them the same surgery for more or less half the price …. and Boston is the top for kidney transplants. Giulia and Federico decided that it was worth making a trip to Boston before “landing” here (in California), and so they did. And it was a wise decision, because in Boston they would get the same treatment but with much more attention to the pre-operative part. Result: they have been in Boston since Christmas. Unfortunately the situation for Michelangelo precipitated, his kidney stopped working and he’s been on dialysis for the last month; he takes it with philosophy. In a few days they’ll remove the kidney that no longer works, and by September they should transplant it with that of one of the parents; what matters now is to help Michelangelo to achieve the best possible physical condition to receive a kidney with the least possible risk of rejection, so they will first stabilize the general state of health, then check the functioning of the urinary tract and intervene in case of injuries.
Apart from this the family is well installed, they have been well received and helped, the children started school in January and the 11 year old sister is happy. The reduced cost of the operation allows them to manage the expensive post-operative care period with less anguish and more hope, Federico began to work and I feel a lot of enthusiasm in our exchanges.

May 2013

Expatclic Italia has just donated 250 euros to Michelangelo for his operation in California. We wish to thank our honorary members and every person that buys our 2013 calendar for giving us the opportunity, besides maintaining the website alive, to support families that relocate for a reason such as the one of Michelangelo’s family.


Michelangelo is nine. He lives in Erbezzo, a town of just under 800 people, in the province of Verona. In less than a month, he’ll travel by air with his parents, and 11-year-old sister Perla to Palo Alto, in California’s Silicon Valley, the cradle of the most “hi-tec” technology in the world. Michelangelo will be welcomed at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford by a team of doctors who have been following his case for months, and who are ready to give him and his family hope for a future.

Michelangelo’s struggle began in his mother’s womb, when the doctors noticed an anomaly. In order to avoid more serious problems, eight in utero operations were performed. Two days after his birth, Michelangelo was on dialysis, and when he was eighteen months old, ‘a little angel’, as his father Federico puts it, ‘gave our son hope for recovery’.

For a while, with the new kidney, the situation was under control, and the little boy was able to lead an almost normal life…until his body rejected the kidney, and everything became more complicated.

Michelangelo is extremely fragile: his renal activity is minimal and the threat of dialysis is constantly looming. His immune system is so weak that he is vulnerable to the slightest infection: even a common cold is a serious threat for him.

I met Michelangelo’s parents, Federico and Giulia, via Facebook, on one of the many pages created to link up expatriates around the world. I signed up by chance, thinking that anything which helps you meet people when you embark on a new posting must be good. Like me, they had signed up to get a bit of information about life here. They’re expats like all the others, I thought to myself; they’re expats who, like so many, have come to this corner of the America, which beckons brilliant people from all over the world, to follow the American dream.

And then I discovered their story, a story which was told to me with dignity, discretion, and spontaneous love…

I related to the story as a mother, obviously, because as a mother I cannot imagine the suffering of a child: Michelangelo’s past and present struggle is beyond my comprehension. And then the story struck me even more deeply as an expatriate who has lived in various countries for many years, because perhaps, until that moment, I had never heard of such a good reason to drop everything and start afresh…

Because Federico and Giulia really are leaving everything behind. ‘Under the initially rather surprised looks from the families’, they sold their pizzeria which had been in the family for generations, in order to raise the money they needed to try this operation that can only be performed at Stanford: only here will they do the operation before kidneys degenerate and dialysis starts.

The Italian support systems which are following the case are aware of this: only in Stanford are the means available to perform an operation which will not only give Michelangelo a new kidney (donated by his mother or father), but will offer him the hope of really living the American Dream with a capital D.

But why the United States? Why Stanford?

During a short holiday in Mexico, Michelangelo fell ill, and we had to turn to an American hospital: seeing how well he was treated, and how quickly he was discharged, in excellent condition, made us think about looking for a transatlantic solution — a solution which would be totally unimaginable in Italy.’

(Following the media furor which surrounded the case in Italy at that time, the Director of the Transplants Department of the Italian Ministry of Health called Federico, asking him why he was running off to the United States, as though the Italian medical services were inadequate to provide the best for Michelangelo. Federico asked him where in Italy would it be possible to perform this operation on a child in Michelangelo’s condition, soon enough so as not to compromise other organs. The Director was unable to reply: unfortunately, the answer can only be found in Stanford.)

Initially the choice of where to go fell on the East Coast of the United States: Washington Hospital, which is reputed to be the best in the world. However, because a mild climate is recommended for post-operative recovery, we looked for another option…and here we are in Palo Alto.

How were you welcomed?

The welcome was wonderful. I think the doctors were touched by our determination. When I called, they said they could only offer me an hour’s consultation — a chat. I immediately paid $900 — which have not yet been debited — we bought our tickets, and four days later, we were there. Instead of the one doctor we expected, there was a whole team, including a social worker and an interpreter, and rather than a simple introductory chat, the first tests and medical checks were performed’.

The family returned to Italy, ready to do everything they could to be able to go back to California, where there is real hope of an operation, and where the doctors are waiting for them with open arms.

The only major stumbling block is the cost: in the United States, medical treatment is extortionate. The operation will cost $500,000, not to mention the living costs for the family.

The decision was taken: we sell everything and we go. Then we’ll see.’ A brave decision. Federico took matters in hand, and spent a month in California, working in restaurants, pushing the doctors to set dates, and prepare for their arrival. There are three places at the hospital reserved for children from abroad, but thanks to Federico’s persistence, a fourth has been created for Michelangelo!

Here Federico and Giulia should be able to start working, but they need help with the huge expense for the operation and post-operative care. A fund-raising committee has been set up in Italy, and another in the United States…see details below:

Comitato Il Coraggio della famiglia (Committee the Courage of the Family), Vicolo della Chiesa, 28, 37020 Erbezzo (VR)
C.F.: 04137680239
IBAN: IT 56 U 08011 59830 000022081111 Cassa Rurale Bassa Vallagarina sede S.Anna d’Alfaedo VR
Infos: Mrs Loredana (vice president)
Tel.: +39 329 4195021 – +39 346 3277130

Just a small gesture could help bring back a smile.

And what about Michelangelo, in all this?

Michelangelo dreams of America; he is happy and full of hope, he knows this operation will give him a better future…and he will finally be able to eat normally (for now he has to follow a low-protien diet)“.

And how is his eleven-year-old sister Perla taking it?

It’s more complicated for her, of course; she has her friends here in Italy, but she also realizes how important this is.’

And maybe, Perla, this will be a wonderful experience for you, too!

Michelangelo, the expat community is waiting to welcome you and your family to California!

Giulietta Cerruti Sacconey (Giuliettaexpat)
Los Altos, San Francisco, Bay area
November 2012
Translated from Italian by Paola Fornari
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