‘Pay It Forward’ To a Stroke-Stricken Scholars’ Student


 This Saturday, October 2, local “Pay It Forward Family” founder, Carlotta Peters-Bulzomi, and her group are back at it again, and this time it’s to help a Scholars’ Academy student and his family. The group is hosting a massive yard sale in Neponsit, from which all proceeds will go towards 10th-grader James Donzella’s mounting medical expenses due to a sudden stroke of his spine. What happened to Donzella, an otherwise healthy young man attending one of the best high schools in NYC, is not just saddening, but daunting.

It’s the first day of school, and one could only imagine the anticipation and excitement Scholars’ Academy student Donzella felt when he got to finally reunite with his friends and teachers after 18 months of mostly remote learning due to the pandemic. However, little did his family, friends nor Donzella himself know what was in store the next day. On Tuesday morning, September 14, the tenth grader merrily walked through the school doors only to be taken out hours later on a stretcher in the grips of a coma and paralyzed from the neck down.

According to the GoFundMe page, “Help us with James's journey…,” created to help the family cover mounting medical expenses, without warning or prior medical condition, Donzella suddenly suffered a spinal stroke. He is currently in the ICU (intensive care unit) and is facing paralysis. While his doctors have not completely identified what caused this to occur, they have acknowledged that his condition is extremely rare, and the road to recovery will be long and costly.

Peters-Bulzomi, whose daughter, Gigi, also attends Scholars’ and is a friend of Donzella, said that when she got wind of what happened, she was grief-stricken and determined to step up to help the Donzella family.

“When I found out what happened, I literally felt sick,” Peters-Bulzomi said. “Imagine dropping your child off to school, only to find out later that they are taken out on a stretcher because they’re in a coma and paralyzed. As a parent, I can’t fathom not just the shock, but the uncertainty James’ parents are facing.

“Also, through mutual acquaintances we learned that James is out of the coma, but still breathing with the assistance of a machine. Unfortunately, when the doctors determined he was ready to be taken off the machine, he suddenly developed pneumonia and spiked a fever. We’re praying for a miracle for James, but in the meantime, I’m determined to use my platform to help the family,” Peters-Bulzomi said.

Every October, Peters-Bulzomi’s “Pay It Forward Family” group does a massive annual yard sale to raise money for Maimonides Breast Cancer Center, which was inspired by her cousin, Meredith Tomassi, who was fighting breast cancer. However, once learning about the financial challenges the Donzella family was facing, Peters-Bulzomi immediately decided to switch gears and instead dedicate the annual fundraiser to help James and his family.

“I didn’t want to overstep my bounds, but I was determined to band with the community to support James and his family. My daughter contacted them to see if it was ok for our annual fundraiser to be dedicated to him, and thankfully they were more than happy,” Peters-Bulzomi said.

The popular yard sale, happening this Saturday, 10 a.m to 4 p.m. at 141-02 Newport Avenue in Neponsit, will feature everything imaginable including jewelry, shoes, clothes, toys, furniture, home decor, kitchen appliances, comforters, bed linens and much, much more, all in great condition. Bulzomi-Peters, whose “Pay It Forward Family” group has grown from just five people to over 600, is hoping folks come out and support their initiative to help the Donzella family. However, for those who can’t attend the yard sale, they can also electronically send a donation via Zelle to 917 807-4566. Also, Bulzomi-Peters and her group are hosting a raffle, from which folks could win a robust gift certificate to a local restaurant.

“What happened to James, could happen to anyone’s child. I told my daughter that we have to be so thankful because yes, we all have something we’re battling, but someone else may have it worse, and if we’re in a position to help, we should,” she said.

For more information about the Donzella family yard sale fundraiser, the restaurant raffle or alternative avenues in which you can help, visit Facebook page: PAY IT FOWARD Family.

 By Kami-Leigh Agard

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