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Thankful for life on Thanksgiving

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Giving thanks: Kevina Santucci, left, with parents Karon and Kevin Santucci ( Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Kevina Santucci will celebrate Thanksgiving today for many reasons but primarily because she is simply grateful to be alive.

The same goes for her father, Chaplain Kevin Santucci, who will give thanks to God for his and his daughter’s recoveries from two near-death experiences, which saw them receive complex surgery in the same hospital from the same physician, just a few months apart.

Kevina, 30, is recovering from a two-year ordeal that began when a cancerous tumour was found behind her left eye.

She has since had numerous cycles of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, suffered three bouts of sepsis which have left her in a coma and had the tumour — and her eye — removed during an eight-hour operation at Massachusetts General Hospital.

But she told The Royal Gazette yesterday: “Even after all this, I remain grateful. Every single day is Thanksgiving for me.”

Her mother Karon Santucci added: “I just leave it all in God’s hands.”

Whilst she was undergoing treatment in Boston last summer, Kevina’s father slipped at his home in Warwick parish and fell into the bath, breaking multiple bones in his face and leaving him barely recognisable.

The prison chaplain flew to Boston and had an operation to rebuild his face at Mass General from ophthalmic plastic surgeon Suzanne Freitag, on the recommendation of his daughter.

Both father and daughter had to have their left eyes removed during surgery. In Mr Santucci’s case, his was put back and he now has a titanium rod holding his left cheek and eye socket together. Kevina went into surgery not knowing whether her left eye could be saved. “I was prepared to lose my eye but, at the same time, I wasn’t,” she said. “Waking up, my first question was ‘did you take my eye?’.

“They were trying to save my eye but being that the tumour was so intertwined with my optic nerve [they couldn’t].”

The loss of her eye, along with weight gain caused by taking steroids for another condition, has knocked her confidence.

“It’s kind of hard walking around,” said Kevina, a film clerk at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital’s film library.

“But I am so grateful for my co-workers. They have helped me so much and it’s not even just people I know. I’m so grateful to the whole of Bermuda.”

While in hospital, Kevina started the hashtag #positivity4bdamum on her Instagram account and it prompted people from Bermuda and beyond to send her messages of support.

On the island, fundraising events were organised to help pay for her treatment and the family remain extremely grateful for all those efforts, as well as indebted to the Department of Corrections.

This week, following a scan, Kevina was told by her doctor there was “no chance of cancer recurring”.

“Ever since my last coma, when I flatlined, it’s kind of like I have had an epiphany,” she said. “I have had a more positive outlook on life and I have been determined to share a more positive outlook with everyone.”

Kevina said much of her strength came from wanting to be there for her daughter Karis, five.

“I fought for Karis,” she said. “I asked God not to let me die before seeing my daughter graduate from university and start her life as a doctor, which is what she now wants to be.

“If I didn’t have my daughter, I would have asked them to bring me home and let me die.”

Kevina and her father give thanks today to everyone who has rallied around them during the last two years, including close friends who persuaded her to seek medical treatment in the first place. But their biggest thanks goes to Karon, the mother, grandmother and wife who cared devotedly for them both while they were ill, as well as for Karis.

Mrs Santucci, who celebrates her birthday today, lost her job because of the time she spent in Boston looking after her loved ones.

But she said the family’s experiences have made them appreciate the outpouring of love they’ve received from the community.

“There are people on this earth that we might never get to meet who were praying for [Kevina],” said Mrs Santucci, who also has a son, Jonathan, 27, with her husband.

Mr Santucci, who used part of his time in Boston to preach and help the needy, added: “In a bad situation, you have to be willing to look for the positive things.”

•Kevina’s Instagram account is phoenix_reborn30

Life-affirming: Kevina Santucci, front, with parents Karon, left, and Kevin Santucci ( Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Grateful: Kevina Santucci, front, with parents Karon, left, and Kevin Santucci ( Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Love and support: Kevina Santucci with father, Chaplain Kevin Santucci (Photograph by Akil Simmons)