Funny guy. Big smile. Twin. Brother. Uncle. Our Superman.
That’s how Gina Mazzaferro describes her son, Joe. And because life isn’t always fair, it’s how she remembers him. Joe Mazzaferro died on April 28, 2009, of an autoimmune disease called Goodpasture Syndrome, which strikes about one person in a million, attacking their lungs and kidneys. He was 33 years old.
“It took his life in just two weeks,” says Gina. “The doctors at St. Michael’s Hospital thought they had a chance to save him and tried everything they could. But Joe told them it wasn’t going to work. Somehow, he knew.”
What Gina did after Joe died was to turn her grief into helping others. She started making bracelets for friends and family in 2010, as a way of keeping Joe’s memory alive, and she welcomed charitable donations in his name. To her surprise, word started to spread. She began getting requests for more of her handmade jewelry. And then more. And just like that, Joe’s Bracelets was born.
What began as a bittersweet, gift-giving project has now grown into a joyous, if still bittersweet, initiative. Gina hosts periodic fundraisers, where she sells her handmade bracelets, rosaries, keychains and other items. The money she raises goes to support St. Michael’s ICU because she has never forgotten how hard they fought to save her son. So far, she has raised more than $18,000.
Gina isn’t stopping there. She wants money from future fundraisers to directly support the hospital’s Three Wishes program, which was introduced to St. Michael’s ICU in 2016. The idea behind Three Wishes is to honour life at the end of life, and can involve anything from playing a patient’s favourite song to arranging special meals, and providing loved ones with mementos and memories.
St. Michael’s didn’t have Three Wishes when Joe was at the hospital in 2009, but Gina says the care he received reflects exactly the same level of commitment and compassion.
“Even as they were making every effort to save him, they were also focused on keeping him comfortable with things like a TV in his room. And of course, they made time for me and our family. It is my greatest privilege to honour my son by helping this great hospital help others like him in their time of need.”
Want to show your appreciation for your St. Michael’s and Providence healthcare champions by holding your own fundraiser? Contact Jessica Graham at GrahamJes@smh.ca or visit our website to learn how.
Donate to St. Michael's Foundation.