WATCHING HIS LIFE GO BY Gio’s funeral drew friends and admirers from throughout his short life, from Hell’s Angels, to doctors and teachers, to New Hampshire Governor John Lynch. It was like all of Manchester was mourning.
Despite his sickness and small stature, Giovanni Guglielmo was a bona fide celebrity. In his five years, the New Hampshire native was exalted by media, blessed by the pope, and had his plump smiling face displayed over Times Square. Gio suffered from a rare immune-deficiency disorder called NEMO. As a result he sometimes lacked the energy to stand, but he inspired thousands to help others who face similar hardships, and in the process even gained such Hollywood admirers as Eva Mendes.
Last March, the Phoenix profiled Gio's father, Michael Guglielmo, whose life took a wild ride from career thug to loving dad and bone-marrow crusader. It was Michael who illuminated his son's star; after Gio was diagnosed with NEMO in 2006, Michael worked endlessly to enlist potential marrow donors. What started as a mission to rescue his son continued after Gio received a cord-blood transfusion in 2007; in the past five years Michael has secured nearly 150 critical matches for strangers.
It's with great respect and sadness that the Phoenix pays tribute to Gio, who died last month, and to the army of donors who joined the international bone-marrow registry because of him.
Gio was no stranger to emergency rooms; he'd been sick for a long time. But that Sunday morning, April 15, he had suffered a rare seizure. His parents were especially concerned.
Michael felt so bad, he says, that he let Gio have a special snack, strawberry yogurt — even though Gio was having difficulty holding food down due in part to a harsh drug regimen, and Michael knew that the smallest bite could lead to nausea.
Doctors decided to send Gio to Boston Children's Hospital. So at around 10:30 am, Gio's mother, Christina Poulicakos, went home from the hospital to pack an overnight bag for the family. Michael rode in the ambulance, with his ex-wife tailing by about a half-hour. Before Poulicakos left, Michael remembers, Gio looked toward her and said, "I love you, Mommy."
Michael says that Gio was excited at first for the trip to Boston, where his godmother, Beth Israel stem-cell researcher Elena Levantini, would be waiting for him. But on the way to Massachusetts, Gio began having more seizures and spitting up food. It wasn't because of the yogurt. Gio's condition had been deteriorating for weeks, and doctors expected him to lose his colon.
After pushing down I-93, the ambulance hit Storrow Drive toward the Fenway exit, forcing cars onto the grass as the driver pulled off. With the hospital close by, Gio's convulsions grew more intense, his eyes pulsating and his head ticcing uncontrollably. Things got worse inside of the Intensive Care Unit; his right eye and the right corner of his mouth started twitching, "as if he was trying to make them touch," Michael says. At around 2 pm, Gio stopped responding to light. He was placed on a ventilator.