Mario’s big night out

Suite view: Mario Gil sits beside his soccer coach, Joe Giovinazzo, while enjoying a pre-season Canucks home game against the Calgary Flames. (Carmen Alatorre photo)

They say every cloud has a silver lining. Mario Gil, a Grade 1 student at Holy Cross Elementary School, is living with a particularly dark cloud hanging over him, although you certainly wouldn’t know it when you meet the energetic, bright-eyed boy.

Mario has been diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare and incurable cancer-like condition where excess white blood cells build up and attack parts of the body. The brave little boy, who is also diabetic, has just completed a year of chemotherapy, and although the prognosis is good, his family recently found out he will have to return for another year of the painful treatment once every three weeks.

There have at least been a few small perks for him along the way.

Mario, the son of local mechanic George Gil, is an absolute car fanatic and last spring got taken out for a spin in a Lamborghini after a Vancouver car dealership heard about his plight. On Wednesday night, he, his family and some team members from Cliff Avenue United Football Club also got to spend an evening in a fully catered suite at Rogers Arena, watching a pre-season Canucks tilt against the Calgary Flames thanks to Metropolis at Metrotown.

“This is really cool,” said the six-year-old while perched with his nose pressed up against the plexiglass high above the ice. “Although I like soccer better.”

When he gets a bit older, Mario, whose family is of Italian descent, is probably more likely to idolize Mario Andretti than Mario Lemieux.

“I really like cars that can go really, really fast, like Maseratis and Ferraris and Lamborghini,” he explained after seeming decidedly unimpressed with the kind of vehicle a newspaper reporter’s salary will get you. Already an avid go-karter, he also appeared to be just as interested in the Zambonis cleaning the ice between periods as he was the actual action on the ice.

“A passion for cars really is what drives him,” said his father proudly.

Gil said that his son was able to join his soccer buddies on the field recently on the very same day he received chemo, thanks to steroids that help offset the debilitating effects of the treatment.

The condition, however, is something Mario will have to live with the rest of his life and will likely result in other complications down the road. Langerhans can cause bone tumours, abdominal pain and growth problems, among other things, although the survival rate is fairly high.

A spokesperson for the mall, which is giving away tickets to concerts and Canucks games as part of its new “the hot seats” contest, said they wanted to begin the hockey season by honouring Mario with a VIP night out.

“We wanted to kick off the 2010/2011 Canucks season by recognizing some of the very special young people in our community,” said public and community relations manager Artie Chumpol. “We have been following Mario Gil’s story in the local press and jumped at the opportunity to do something to boost his spirits.”

Mario said that his favourite player is goalie Roberto Luongo, which seems fitting as he too is an athlete with Italian blood who has lots of people in the Lower Mainland rooting for him

(This story was first published Sept. 25, 2010 © Copyright (c) Burnaby Now
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