Team Tessa family offers heartfelt thank you to Pine-Richland community
Friday, August 30, 2019 | 12:01 AM
If kindness and generosity could have cured Tessa Tarasovich, her mother said, the little girl would be alive and healthy today.
That, sadly, is not the case, but Melissa Tarasovich and her family now want to thank the Pine-Richland community and all those who gave them support and strength over the last year as their 8-year-old daughter battled a rare and aggressive brain tumor.
“We knew every day that we didn’t have to worry about anything,” she said. “All we had to focus on was looking after Tessa because everyone was so kind and did everything for us.”
It started during the initial trip to the emergency room in Hilton Head, S.C., last summer when Tessa got sick during their family vacation. When doctors told them that Tessa needed to go by ambulance to the hospital in Charleston, a nurse offered to keep Tessa’s brother and sister and look after them for the weekend.
“She was a perfect stranger, but she was willing to do that,” Tarasovich said. “We didn’t take her up on it, but at that moment, I realized just how nice and how amazing people could be.”
Tessa was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, a form of pediatric cancer that affects approximately 200 to 400 children per year in the United States. She began treatment at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in early August 2018.
As word spread of Tessa’s illness, the community rallied behind the family in ways they never expected, Melissa Tarasovich said.
Their neighbors in Pine Crest made sure their lawn was mowed and their laundry was taken care of while Tessa was in the hospital. They set up carpools and drove their other two children wherever they needed to go. Friends set up a GoFundMe and formed “Team Tessa,” and signature purple bows began showing up all over town. Countless people worked behind the scenes at bake sales and other fundraisers. At Christmas, neighbors displayed purple lights.
The generosity of children was also overwhelming, Tarasovich said, with some emptying their piggy banks and others suggesting donations to Team Tessa in lieu of presents at their birthday parties.
The kids in the neighborhood took pages and wrote down jokes and made them into a book for Tessa.
“Just to cheer her up,” Tarasovich said. “There really wasn’t a day where we didn’t have something land on our porch.”
There were gift cards and presents, not just for Tessa but for her brother and sister, too, gas cards to help with trips to the hospital, cards, prayers and more.
“When we came home from the hospital, we had a group of kids waiting for us with welcome home signs,” she said.
Tessa’s teacher at Richland Elementary came over after school several days a week to tutor Tessa, and Tessa was sometimes able to join her classmates for special events and fun days at school. Every holiday, her teacher created a special display in their yard, as well, Tarasovich said, from putting a mini pumpkin patch on the lawn for Halloween to erecting a big happy birthday sign to mark Tessa’s special day.
“She definitely felt special and felt loved,” Tarasovich said. “She wanted to be normal, that was her goal, she said she wanted to be normal and ride the school bus and wanted to go back to school, but she felt famous. She did. And we’d drive around, and she’d see the purple bows and that support for her, and I’m sure that gave her strength. It definitely gave us strength.”
Supporters raised more than $100,000 for Team Tessa over the past year, and the money helped pay for what insurance wouldn’t, such as a patch to alleviate the nausea that was relentless at times, as well as a special-needs stroller after Tessa was no longer able to walk.
“We went through three different routes to find something that would help her, and sometimes the doctors would say that’s not covered, so the money gave us the flexibility to say it doesn’t matter, if this is the best alternative, then we’re doing it,” Tarasovich said. “We never felt restricted as far as treatments.”
Tessa passed away July 23. The funds also helped pay for a beautiful memorial, Tarasovich said, and they’re working with the cemetery where she’s buried to create a garden where the family can go and sit. Any money left over will go to help fight DIPG.
The family wanted to say a special thank you to the students and staff at Richland Elementary and the people who live in the Pine Crest neighborhood.
“There are so many people who helped, but definitely the people here were so involved in all the fundraising and the day-to-day help,” she said. “They spent so many hours; it’s just mind-boggling to think about. And they’re still taking care of us. They’re still helping us out.”