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Kids Day: Teen's chronic illness inspires him to raise money for others

Carson Dayka is wise for his 16 years.

Those close to the Hamburg High School junior chalk it up to his battle with chronic illness that compromised his ability to eat and breathe. The illness has resulted in more than 20 surgeries, 100 hospitalizations — and the formation of countless friendships.

"Carson has never complained in his life," said Nicole Dayka, Carson's mother. "It doesn't matter how bad things are or how long he's been in the hospital, he thanks me all the time for taking such good care of him. He's remarkable in his concern for others."

That's why, at age 8, Carson started "Carson's Ice Cream Sale" to raise funds to help other sick children. In 2008, the Daykas began selling ice cream on the front lawn of their Orchard Park home. The annual event is held on the first Saturday every August. Last summer it raised $2,600 and drew scores of people.

Another of Carson's projects, a Valentine-themed Heart Healthy Party, featured four massage therapists for "the moms who take care of us because they work so hard," Carson said. "I wanted to be a massage therapist when I was younger. Now I want to study marketing and public relations."

It wasn't long before Carson was approached by Joanne Lana of the Children's Hospital Foundation to start the Carson Dayka Travel Fund. Lana is director of Stone's Buddies, a support group at Women's & Children's Hospital for patients and families who are struggling with chronic and life-threatening illness.

"Carson is really one of our longest members," Lana said. "You would never know he's so sick. He's a wonderful influence on the program. Now Stone's Buddies kids are doing similar sales. They are becoming a big family."

Carson's story is being told because Tuesday, April 25, is Kids Day. Thousands of volunteers will help sell a special Kids Day edition of The Buffalo News in  the morning. The proceeds from the sale of this special edition will benefit Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, Cradle Beach and children in Western New York.

In addition to Carson, other members of Stone's Buddies are also doing good deeds.

Francesa Kotowski of Cheektowaga, who just turned 17, has been in the program since she was 4, said Lana. For Kotowski's Sweet 16 party, she suggested her guests bring donations instead of gifts. With the proceeds, Kotowski funded the Seeds of Hope Easter Party and purchased seeds for the Stone's Buddies Garden of Hope, where flower beds are accessible to those in wheelchairs.

Zoe Haynes, 14, of Gasport holds a garage sale in the summer.

Cole Huson, 6, and his family launched Coffee with Cole fund drives that raise money to buy Tim Hortons gift cards for families to use while their children are hospitalized.

"These kids don't have a diagnosis, but they have chronic illness," Lana said. "We call it the 'silent illness.'

"Some people may think they're faking. Their poor parents beat their heads against the wall. They just do not know what is causing all the illness. This is their life. They're used to being in the hospital."

Stone's Buddies started in 2005. It was named for Stone Fillipovich, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 2. His parents had few resources and were struggling, said Lana.

"We wanted to emphasize the needs families have when facing chronic and life-threatening illnesses," said Lana. "We help them through the feelings of isolation. Our motto is, 'You are never alone.' "

More than 500 families are enrolled in Stone's Buddies, Lana said. "The kids who give back are the happiest."

Ashton Smith of Salamanca was unable to walk when Carson first met him in a playground during the fall of 2015. At the time, Ashton and his family were about to leave for Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., for stem cell surgery.

A Native American, Ashton gave Carson a dream catcher that today hangs in Carson's bedroom.

"The travel fund helped him a lot," Carson said of Ashton. "When they came to the ice cream sale, it was such a shock when Ashton got out of his wheelchair and walked over and gave me a hug."

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