The Penso Family Story

Justin Penso, now age 12, began alerting his parents that something was wrong back when he was in nursery school. Doctors told his parents that his continuous stomach issues were everything from a gluten allergy to an inflamed colon. Despite being treated for these conditions, Justin grew thinner.

"He was just not taking in nutrition," says his mother Geraldine. In May 2008, Justin's stomach problems worsened. An X-ray showed a stage 3 neuroblastoma tumor on his side. The next day, Justin and his parents flew from their home in Curacao, an island in the southern Caribbean Sea, off the Venezuelan coast, to Amsterdam, while their daughter Alyssa went to stay with her grandparents in Holland. This was the beginning of their medical journey.

Justin's father Ryan stayed in the Netherlands while Justin underwent chemotherapy, oral radiation to shrink the tumor, and ultimately surgery. His mother stayed with him at the hospital at the University Medical Center Groningen, one of the largest hospitals in the Netherlands.

After recovering, Justin continued to have yearly checkups, which showed his condition had stabilized. However, in August 2013, he began having strong pain in his right leg, and his abdomen began to swell. It turned out that a new tumor had grown where the old one had been and was causing compression on his leg. His doctors and social worker arranged for him to be admitted to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, far from their home in Curacao.

A room opened up at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House on Chestnut Street, and Justin, Ryan, and Geraldine left immediately for Philadelphia. "It's been fantastic to stay at this facility so close to the hospital," says Geraldine. She adds, "It has allowed us to form a family. We are not alone. Everyone has their own story, yet we are the same."

Justin has had the second tumor removed at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and is currently taking oral chemotherapy while he stays at the Ronald McDonald House with his family. He has formed friendships with many of the other children at the Ronald McDonald House. Like Justin, Geraldine has made many friends at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald house too and has come to rely on social worker Helen Reese for emotional support. "People are very strong here. If you have a rough day, there is always someone to talk to. The best part is you see that miracles still happen."





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