2012-06-14 / Other News

Frank Guariglia: A Profile In Perseverance

By Sam Akhtar

The shirt says it all The shirt says it all Readers of the Canarsie Courier may recall a profile piece we ran on January 6, 2011 on Frank Guariglia a former teacher, who required a kidney transplant after years of being told his Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) would be dormant well until his golden years. From about 1994, Guariglia led his life with minor changes and continued monitoring his health with regular medical office visits. Then on February 4, 2007 — 13 years later — a physician abruptly told him he had roughly 15 months to live.

Fast forwarding to present day, I first met the teacher at his dialysis appointment on Monday, June 4th. Through the glass panel on the door, I recognized his face. But what I noticed even more, was the bright red tee-shirt with the word Marines in a strong, vibrant yellow across it.

I opened the door and made my way over. As I introduced myself, he reciprocated. “Call me Frank, ‘Mr. G,’ a**-hole, whatever,” he quipped. As I pulled up a seat, I noticed his New York Rangers hat and we discussed how he was rooting for the Los Angeles Kings to eliminate the New Jersey Devils in the National Hockey League playoffs (the Devils eliminated the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals, but subsequently fell to the Kings).

What Frank says is a “day at the office” What Frank says is a “day at the office” The teacher in Frank gave me a recap of what transpired leading up to his initial kidney transplant. About a week before Thanksgiving, he called the donor to check how she was doing. “She was crying on the phone and told me she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer,” he sighed. Even in his condition, his heart and sympathy were more concerned with her well-being over his own.

On Christmas, with the donor’s sudden turn in health still fresh in mind, Frank called to check on her. What happened next was truly a Christmas miracle. “She told me she was misdiagnosed and she was going ahead with the transplant,” he said, as a smile broke out.

After the transplant, Guariglia’s body was attacking the organ. Every conceivable side effect, Frank got and worse. What ensued was truly an ordeal of complication after complication, punctuated by a lengthy 32-day stay at the hospital.

“When I first got home, I stood on my carpet barefoot for about 15 minutes, enjoying the feeling compared to the cold linoleum hospital floor,” he recalled. He relayed his continued difficulties post-transplant. As doctors and specialists scrambled to understand the cause of his deteriorating health, Frank had decided the kidney had to come out.

As he continued to unravel his medical history, I couldn’t help but wonder what must have been going through his mind during all this. I had to ask him about his mental state and he referenced the Marines tee-shirt I noticed before sitting down.

His matter-of-fact recount turned to a bit of a smirk and then some emotion started to surface as he spoke about his father. “My father was Italian and a Marine,” he reflected. He let me understand the influence his father had on him. “Not knowing, at the time, but he prepared me well for life,” as his eyes grew misty. And just as quickly the resolve returned as he strongly stated, “I refuse to let it break me mentally.”

After a brief pause, our conversation turned to his profession. Mr. “G” taught Social Studies at Marine Park I.S. 278. His green eyes lit up as he regaled me with stories of his students, his classes. “My job was teaching, but I didn’t work,” he said. (Coincidentally, Mr. “G” worked at the very same school he had attended as a youngster.) He felt it was all about the kids and “was trying to instill in them how to be a more responsible person.”

We spent more time talking about teaching. With great pride, Frank spoke about being able to reach that one kid to show him the value of Social Studies. He chose junior high because of the chance to build a child up. He spoke passionately about trying to reach a kid who had been discouraged and broken down. Even through his medical problems, Mr. “G” spoke fondly about being able to go back to school for that one year. “In the classroom with kids,” he reflected,” everything was secondary.”

But realizing his health would be an ongoing issue, Frank Guariglia had to retire. Even though this was very disappointing, he got a chance to speak to the last class he taught at graduation in June 2011. As he told me this story, his passion overcame him and his shaky voice burst into tears as he brought his hand to his eyes. After collecting himself, the ardent hockey fan revealed, even at the graduation, he thought of his ultimate inspiration—his father—to avoid breaking down at the commencement. The speech gave him a sense of closure.

While the resilient New Yorker copes with his health, Guariglia maintains his lifestyle. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, he attends dialysis. And while it isn't necessarilyhis favorite part, to his credit, Guariglia easily compartmentalizes his time. "Tuesdays and Thursdays and the weekends I live my life; doing errands, meeting friends for lunch," said the self-described foodie.

   And while his dialysis may limit a regular work schedule, life goes on. He has been told he should consider being a life coach, given his tremendous ability to uplift those around him despite his problems. "There is always someone worse off than you," he hypothesized. Guariglia is active in his community and looks forward to working with the Marine Park Civic Association. He is also anxious to possibly volunteer at Brooklyn College working in organizing their archives. "I did it once before but they moved everything. I just feel I should be doing something."

   You are Frank- you're inspiring all of us to live every moment.

Frank Guariglia Graduation Speech

Thank you, thank you Mrs. Garofalo, Mrs. DeGrotta, Colleagues, Parents and the graduating Class of 2011.

It is really good to see you guys.

You are the first graduating class, and the last graduating class, I will address and it is truly my honor to be standing here before you.

I would like to say a few words about life. Life does not come with an owner’s manual. You dream about doing something. You set your sights on goals. However, sometimes people and unforeseen events may interfere with you in reaching those goals. But you must remain determined and keep pushing forward.

I would like to share with you from personal experience, exactly what I mean. On February, 4, 2007, a doctor, a former doctor of mine, told me, I had 15 months to live. Well, it has been 50 months, and I am still here and I am still fighting.

I had other doctors tell me, a treatment would not work. I am still here and I am still fighting.

Twenty-five surgeries later, I am still here and I am still fighting.

So why do I share this with you? Do not tell me, “You can’t pursue your dreams or reach your goals.” There is no“can’t!” You keep trying and trying and trying. You keep fighting, keep succeeding, and most important, be the best person you can.

You will learn, it is better to be judged in life not by what you take from this world, but by what you have given back and given to others.

So, I wish you all farewell. I wish you good luck in high school, college, and most important in life.

Class of 2011. Thank you for being a part of my life and making me a better person. Make me proud!

Thank you.

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