By Brad Spencer
Twelve-year-old Oak Parker Nina Petrosino spent the days around Christmas hobnobbing with professional athletes in Milwaukee — and fighting for her life.
She told Green Bay Packers fullback John Kuhn to his face that she was a Bears fan — after, of course, obtaining his autograph for relatives. She then swapped stories with Milwaukee Bucks players about the point guard position, which she plays on her St. Giles team.
When she's not playing hoops, Nina plays softball and soccer, but right now she's boxing — in the rhetorical sense. You see, Nina's duking it out with Severe Aplastic Anemia, a disease of the bone marrow. She's battled this particular foe for seven years now. With help from a bone-marrow transplant on Dec. 21, she's now in the process of getting this nasty disease against the ropes and, hopefully, knocking it to the canvas.
I don't know much about Nina — her parents and a close family friend I attempted to contact were, understandably, unavailable before deadline for this column — but I can tell you she has more real friends than you do on your Facebook page.
Back in November, hundreds of people showed up to see if their bone marrow matched Nina's through a registry drive set up by AYSO, the organization Nina plays soccer for. On Dec. 20, hundreds again showed up at St. Giles Church for an all-night prayer vigil in her honor as she prepared to receive a transplant at Children's Hospital in Milwaukee.
The match ended up coming from Germany off an international registry of 11 million people. An early Christmas miracle.
Her mother, Maribeth, has been keeping an online journal of Nina's progress. Things seem to be going well. A Christmas Eve post went: "Our girls reunited today with hugs, laughs and giggles. We can think of no merrier place to be for Christmas than Room E574 on the HOT (Hematology, Oncology, Transplant) unit floor, celebrating together as a family. Thank you, dear Lord, for making our Christmas dreams come true."
Nina, whose three sisters are Gianna, Talia and Mia, is no doubt a brave little girl. The 6-foot, 290-pound Kuhn probably thought the same thing. Her moxie is apparent in neighbor and friend Karen Cofsky's introduction letter of the online journal: "Everyone needs a 'Nina Petrosino' living next door to them! She infuses our home with love, energy and order. She walks into our door and within minutes tells us everything we need to do and know, from advising us that our garage needs sweeping to what our next move should be while playing Bananagrams!"
By all accounts, this disease has no idea who it's messing with.
To post a message to Nina and her family go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/ninapetrosino
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