WEST PALM BEACH — Anthony Yannucci wants to thank people for the "overwhelming" outpouring of support for his family, but mostly he's focused on trying to help his son recover from a traumatic brain injury.
"People we don't even know are sending cards, gas cards and money," Yannucci said at a news conference Friday evening at Palm Beach Children's Hospital at St. Mary's Medical Center, where his 11-year-old son, Joey, was taken March 26 after he was critically injured in a school bus crash in St. Lucie County that killed one child. The Frances K. Sweet Elementary School fifth-grader was among more than a dozen others who were injured.
Joey emerged from a medically induced coma three days ago, said Dr. Neil Patel, the pediatric neurosurgeon who has performed two surgeries on the boy so far.
The first was to remove part of the boy's skull to relieve pressure from swelling in his brain. In that operation, the section of skull covering his frontal lobes was inserted under his skin.
After Joey came out of the coma, however, the skull section was causing him too much discomfort, so it was removed and put in a freezer until it can be reinserted.
Patel said the discomfort was a good sign because the pain meant the boy's brain is working.
Patel said Joey will be transferred to Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Delray Beach, probably Monday, to begin rehabilitation that will include physical and speech therapy.
Though Yannucci, associate dean at Keiser University in Fort Pierce, conceded that Joey still has a long road to full recovery, being able to talk to his eldest son again is a huge relief.
"He talks about going to Disney and the future," Yannucci said of his conversations with Joey. "He wants to go home and he asks for bacon. He loves bacon."
So far, Yannucci has avoided talking with Joey about the accident.
"He knows he's in a hospital because he has boo-boos."
Yannucci and his wife, Barbara, also are consoling their younger son, Jacob, 10, who not only is struggling to deal with his brother's injury, but whose best friend Aaron Beauchamp, 9, was killed in the accident.
The outpouring of support has barely begun, said Scott Van Duzer, the owner of Big Apple Pizza in Fort Pierce who started a foundation to help families like the Yannuccis.
The Van Duzer Foundation is conducting a fundraiser from 3 to 10 p.m. Wednesday at Big Apple Pizza. Another benefit is planned for April 28 by the Sign With Me Child Development Center Inc., where Barbara Yannucci is a teacher.
JOEY YANNUCCI BENEFITS
Van Duzer Foundation
When: 3 to 10 p.m. April 25
Where: Big Apple Pizza, 2311 S. 35th St. in Fort Pierce
Information or to donate online: Visit thevanduzerfoundation.org
Family Fun Day
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 28. Registration for the poker tournament begins at 6 p.m.
Tickets: $50 donation (paid in advance) for poker tournament. There will also be a 50/50 raffle and a silent auction.
Where: Sign with Me Child Development Center, 5300 Melville Road in Fort Pierce
Donations: Can be mailed to Sign With Me Child Development Center Inc. 10635 Pine Needle Drive, Fort Pierce, FL 34945. Checks should be made payable to: Sign With Me Child Development Center Inc.