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Four-year-old's memory lives on as inspiration Stone Filipovich is impetus to cheer up sick kids, kin

By all accounts, Stone Filipovich's cheerful outlook in the face of death affected everyone he touched.

On the first of his several visits to the KISS 98.5 studio during a radiothon to benefit Women and Children's Hospital, the 3-year-old "took the mike right out of my hand and said, 'Buffalo is going to hear the a-b-c's,' " recalled Janet Snyder, who hosts the station's morning show. "The spirit in this child was amazing."

Stone, who died in August 2004, 10 days after his fourth birthday and after battling brain cancer for more than a year, "taught us some lessons," said Dr. Veetai Li, the hospital's chief of neurosurgery. Among very sick children, Li said, "he was really unique."

"Every time you'd see him he was going through a major trauma," remembered former Buffalo Sabre Rob Ray. But Stone would rather buck up other young patients than focus on his own pain, Ray said.

On Tuesday, Snyder, Li, Ray and others crowded into the hospital vestibule to honor the youngster by launching Stone's Buddies, a support organization for young patients and their families.

It is the kind of help Roberta Ritchie and Mark Filipovich could have used after they first brought their son to the hospital in 2003.

"We basically had to go to a library to find the information we needed," Filipovich said. The couple also turned to Carly's Club at Roswell Park Cancer Institute for guidance.

For all of the praise showered on Women and Children's for providing the best medical care, it never had a formal program to help families with seriously ill children get by.

"Stone's situation brought the need to light," said Joanne Koessler Lana, who will oversee Stone's Buddies. "It's about time we had our own club."

From now on, families will be given the tools they need to help them cope with what they are going through, Lana said.

"We're kind of hoping that's what this does," said Filipovich, who moved with Ritchie from Grand Island to Texas after Stone died.

Each Stone's Buddy will receive a club T-shirt, pillowcase, stress ball, bandanna, pen, glow-in-the-dark bracelet and journal to record his or her experiences. Parents will receive "One Step at a Time," an information booklet about the child's hospitalization. The booklet "gives the family the opportunity to be the child's project manager," Lana said.

Stone's Buddies also will point the way to specialized patient-help units within the hospital, child-life specialists, and Web sites and books for children, siblings and parents.

The goal will be "to create a more homelike feeling" for patients and families, said Lana, who hopes that a room on the main floor eventually will be set aside for Stone's Buddies, whose motto is, "You're never alone."

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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