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Brothers raise bread with bread
MICHAEL C. UPTON Record Express Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Vinny Forte is one determined young man. Once his mind sets a goal it seems nothing will stop him. At the age of 12 he is a fundraising guru, a successful event organizer, and he has even landed an internship and college scholarship once he reaches the milestone of age 18. The thing about Vinny is it is not all about Vinny. Everything he does has everything to do with his little brother, Tony.
Tony was born on June 19, 2005. It was a joyous Father’s Day for the Forte family. But beyond the beauty of childhood lurked a presence the Forte family had never known in their two previous children, Hirschsprung’s Disease. The debilitating intestinal disease causes the nerves in the abdominal region to malfunction.
After a standard stay in the delivery hospital, Tony went home with his family undiagnosed. The boy had yet to have his first bowl movement. Mom Monica Forte grew increasingly concerned and two days later her infant son started throwing up bile. She knew something was definitely wrong.
"Babies poop. That is just what they do, and poor Tony, he just couldn’t," recalled Forte. "He was just sick."
After a series of visits with local specialists and a trip to another area hospital, doctors eventually rushed the Forte family to the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. There was just one bed available and it became Tony’s. The doctors in Hershey immediately ran tests and planned an emergency five-hour surgery for the six-day-old boy.
"It was then we were told he had Total Colonic Hirschsprung’s," said Forte.
The surgery removed his entire colon and one-third of his intestines. He was left with three to four feet of small intestine (which has since expanded with age). Hirschsprung’s Disease affects one in 5,000 children. In only five percent of cases, the entire colon is affected. Little Tony was a rare case.
In the first four years of his life, while living in and out of hospitals, Tony was "severely sick," said Forte. His case was diagnosed as severe by doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. He was eventually put on an organ transplant list. He can’t eat normally. To this day, Tony lives with an IV attached to his chest, which provides nutrition and hydration. He waits for a new stomach and small and large intestines. Doctors also foresee Tony needing a new liver as it has been overworked with his current feeding regimen. The stress on his body is immense.
"There is a very high chance, as Tony is waiting for these organs to come, that he could also be listed for pancreas and kidneys," Forte said.
Tony’s oldest brother, Vinny, was not going to sit around and wait. Three years ago, Vinny had an idea to set up an online charitable presence to help raise funds for his brother. The Antonio Forte Transplant Fund Trust website (www.aftft.com) recently surpassed 60,000 page views. The site holds a list of fundraising events, employs a PayPal portal for online donations, and shares local and national coverage of Tony’s life. The site also links to information about Hirschsprung’s Disease and pediatric transplantation. Those elements are key, because it was information -or the lack thereof – that drove Vinny to start asking some intelligent questions. One of which was, why was there such little information about organ donation here in Lancaster County?
"Vincent came up with this when he was about 9 years old," said Forte. "He was working on websites in his computer class at school. Everybody just loved it. He put his own thoughts and words to it."
Vinny contacted Gift of Life, a nonprofit organization serving Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, who conveniently had an office in Hershey near where his brother had appointments.
"We just decided to stop in. We talked to them and they had a whole bunch of materials and they sent us out five boxes of materials for us to hand out at our fundraisers," said Vinny. "It’s been going good. All the brochures we give out really help."
"It’s been going good" might be an understatement. Vinny and middle brother Dominic started raising funds with a bake sale outside of McElroy Pharmacy at 100 E. Main St., Lititz. McElroy Pharmacy has served Tony’s needs since he was six days old.
"We’d always come home with a lot of stuff," said Vinny. "One day we had these tins left over and we decided to fill them up (with breads) and sell them. We sold out of all of them and everyone wanted more. It grew and grew until we needed to start the company."
Vinny and Dominic started My Brother’s Breads, LLC and have experienced great success. Since the brothers started selling baked goods in downtown Lititz, more than $10,000 has accrued to aide in Tony’s lengthy recuperation during and after transplant. All made from family recipes, breads have sold out in less than two hours. That’s no small feat considering the boys and their band of helpers usually make 300 one-pound loaves. It takes the crew about four hours.
"We have one little oven and one mixer," said Vinny. "We have a cycle and once it’s started it goes quick."
According to Vinny, the most popular flavors are blueberry, red velvet, and chocolate. The homemade company produces more than 20 flavors and sells in Lititz on every second Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. My Brother’s Breads can also be found at special events and festivals. Information can be found on the website at www.mybrothersbreadsllc.com. On Saturday, May 18, the Forte’s will bring their fundraising prowess to Ephrata in the form of a community day titled Zumbathon 4 Tony Forte. The event will take place rain or shine at the Ephrata Elks, 170 Akron Road, and feature more than 50 vendors. The event will include food, games, door prizes, and a special auction.
"We have a whole event planned," said Vinny. "We will be selling our breads, but there will be a whole vendor show there and a bunch of Zumba instructors."
The Zumba event will take place inside the Elks building from 1 to 4 p.m. Cost is $20 per person, $10 for ages 13 through 17, and kids under 12 are free.
"We come from strong family backgrounds on both sides," said Forte of her family. "Family comes first. We have a strong faith and a strong family and that’s what it takes to bring a child like Tony through this. It’s a sad walk of life when you have to be dealt with something like this, but the community has come out on a whole."
Even though it is a struggle, it is a life – and if you ask anyone in the Forte family, it’s a wonderful life no matter the obstacles. As My Brother’s Breads motto says, "If at first you don’t succeed, you aren’t us."
More FORTE FUNDRAISER, page A4