John Dowling Interviews Model Citizen and Michael Magro Foundation Founder Terrie Magro.
John: I am with Terrie Magro, who is the founder of the Michael Magro Foundation. Terrie you have been nominated as a Model Citizen for all you do for charity and also for Long Island, congratulations.
Terrie: Thank you so much John, it’s an honor to be nominated and I’m very appreciative for this opportunity.
John: Can you tell us about Michael?
Terrie: Michael was my oldest son. He was born in 1990 and his brother Mark was 28 months later. So my two boys had a great relationship, they did everything together. At times they had some typical fighting, but they had a great life together.
In 2004, Mark was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was going through cancer treatment at the Cancer Center for Kids at NYU Winthrop Hospital. He was just about completing his chemotherapy treatment and ready to start radiation when Michael, as I dub it, out of the clear blue sky, started feeling weak and presented with what seemed like the flu. This was at the end of May, and by June 8th he was diagnosed with Leukemia. It was actually ALL, which is the acronym for the type of Leukemia he had. It was a T-cell, a very aggressive cell and his age was against him. He was about 13 ½ at that time, and Mark was 11 when he was initially diagnosed.
So Michael’s journey was very different from Marks. As difficult as Mark’s Journey was, through radiation and chemotherapy, Michael really had a very difficult time. His pulmonary system was really damaged through all of this, so Michael was actually diagnosed on June 8th of 2004, and he passed away on July 30th of 2004.
John: That’s a tragedy, I’m so sorry.
Terrie: It was a whirlwind to say the least. People thought I was losing my mind because I started to talk about Michael and cancer treatment, and they were telling me, no you mean Mark, and I said no, unfortunately I mean Michael.
Michael was a lot sicker than Mark, but their journeys were just horrific. Cancer treatments do a lot of good. There are so many survivors, and survival rates have gone up.
John: But it’s torture right?
Terrie: Yes, it is torture. For anyone going through that journey, and let me tell you that it is torture watching it.
John: My father, who was an Iron Man. He ran 100-mile races and 50-mile races in sub-zero weather. On his first day of chemotherapy, he told me that he knew he was never leaving the hospital. He was just going through it for my mother and my sisters, but he knew. I can only imagine what it is like when children are going through it, like your boys.
Terrie: Similar to your dad, Michael really felt that he was not coming out of it. He just kept saying, “I don’t think this is working” and we were trying to be so positive. I have a clinical background as a registered nurse, so he kept saying Mom…
John: You are an angel. Nurses are God’s angels on earth. I would not be here without nurses. I spent three and a half months in St. Francis.
Terrie: That was where I started my career, at St. Francis. A fabulous place.
John: Yes, it is. So you were trying to stay positive for Michael.
Terrie: I would say to Michael, we have to be positive, we have to have positive energy and he tried to stay as positive as he could until that last week. That is when I had to tell him that, because he was having too much trouble breathing, we had to put him on a ventilator. His response was that he knew.
I know in his heart, he knew that this was not going to be a successful outcome for him. Mark was finishing up his chemotherapy and radiation and had his last radiation treatment the day after Michael was put on the ventilator. It was a torturous few months. The worst part was Michael’s passing and Mark being there as the cancer survivor. He was the younger brother and for him it was like, “what just happened? I just lost my brother. How did this happen? I survived and he didn’t”.
So there was a lot of psycho-social, a lot of emotional feelings going back and forth between the family. At one point I would say, what am I praying for? What am I looking for? What outcome is going to be best for Michael? At that point, that’s really where your focus is.
John: Now you’ve taken all of this pain and you’ve used that to do tremendous things. Can you share please with everybody about the Michael Magro Foundation?
Terrie: As we were going through this journey, we certainly learned a lot about how much families struggle financially. We were in a situation where our insurance was good, we didn’t have as much of a difficult time financially, but I watched all these families saying that they couldn’t pay for their car or…
John: I nearly went bankrupt because of my own health issues. I had to sell my house, liquidate my 401k, I couldn’t work for years. I don’t have any complaints on my end. I’m here and really, I’m not supposed to be. I have a long future ahead of me and I’m starting over myself, but I have watched as families go bankrupt over health issues.
Terrie: That’s what I was seeing and it’s astounding to me how this system could really just rob you of everything you have. When any parent would sell their left arm if they had to in order to save their child’s life. I totally understood that. When Mike passed away, Paul, Mark and I decided we were going to start a foundation in Michael’s honor and memory that will help families. So my whole focus with the mission of the Michael Magro Foundation is to help people with their financial needs to pay bills so that it can make a difference. If we can make them smile for one moment. If we can tell them things like their car insurance has been paid for the next six months by the foundation, then that is what we’re all about.
I work with the social workers from all different hospitals. We get requests throughout Long Island, the borough’s and Tri-State area. Now it’s getting bigger, and with COVID hitting, we’re hearing from a lot of people from all over the United States. it’s just mind-boggling. The money that we raise goes directly to help the families. We get gift cards to help put gas in their cars, food on their table. Anything. It’s an all volunteer board as well.
John: How can people help?
Terrie: They can help by really just spreading the word about what we do. As a small Foundation, we have raised about $2.6 million since we started as a 501c3 organization.
John: That’s amazing.
Terrie: It’s important for people to know that we all work full-time. I just retired from NYU Winthrop at the end of June. We all work full-time, so it’s a big task. Nobody is paid. There’s not a lot of rent or overhead that we have. So well over 90 cents on the dollar that is going directly to the foundation and the families.
John: That’s really amazing, all this work that you do, and that all your volunteers do.
Terrie: We are lean-and-mean, as I like to say. I definitely want that message out because the money that you’re donating is going right to the families.
John: Which is not like many of the charitable foundations. I have pulled back some of my own volunteerism because of that. I agree with you. I’ve heard you work hard to keep expenses low so that everything goes to the families.
I want to congratulate you again on your very well deserved nomination as a Model Citizen. We’re going to share your story with everyone and hopefully get the word out there. We hope to hear more from you in the future.
Terrie: Thank you very much.