SPRINGFIELD — At just 8 years old, Ben Manzi knows what it’s like to have needles poking him all the time and IV bags filling his small body with fluid. He knows what it’s like to spend school days and holidays in the hospital and spend more time with nurses and doctors than his friends.
“I’ve had three surgeries in my life and it’s hard,” said Ben, a Springfield boy who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia just a few weeks before Christmas in 2015.
Ben is now in remission, although he still has a year of treatments ahead of him. He wanted to do something for all of the kids like him who have to spend a lot of time in the hospital.
“Last year he did a toy drive to celebrate going into remission and this year he wanted to do it again,” said his mom, Kati Manzi. “It just happened to coincide with September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.”
Ben set a serious goal — 1,000 toys in one month.
“My mom didn’t quite think I could make it, but I thought I could,” he said. “We ended up collecting 1,279 toys.”
Ben and his little brother Gabe Manzi, 6, and their friends Brady Kahle, of Springfield, and Andrew Stark, of Hampden, were on hand Tuesday to unload toys from various family cars and pickup trucks and deliver them to Dr. Charlotte Boney, chairwoman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School at Baystate.
Boney asked Ben if he had a favorite toy of all the ones collected and how he thought they should be distributed.
“Well, I didn’t look through all of them because it would take forever,” Ben said. “I think the toys should be given out as rewards when kids have to do hard stuff like getting a port placed or if they have to have surgery, but also for birthdays and holidays.”
Ben said he had to have many IV bags before he had a port placed in his body. A port is a device implanted under the skin, often used on patients that require intravenous fluids, blood transfusions and chemotherapy treatment…