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Touched by Baby Shawn’s cancer battle, Amherst businessman makes generous donation

The CEO of a multimillion-dollar Amherst company was swamped at work Monday. But Joseph DiNardo, a longtime attorney, couldn’t stop thinking about the story he had read in Sunday’s Buffalo News about 5-year-old Shawn Kennedy of Niagara Falls, who was diagnosed in August with incurable brain cancer.

Like “Baby Shawn,” DiNardo, founder and CEO of Counsel Financial Services, had undergone radiation for a brain tumor.

Diagnosed in 2005, it was a benign but inoperable meningioma.

But the link went deeper. Less than a year ago, DiNardo’s wife, Marcia Anastasi-DiNardo, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer, another tough diagnosis with poor odds. DiNardo called her death “such a powerful transformation for me.”

So on Tuesday he sought further information on Shawn’s family. He was referred to the GoFundMe page for Shawn that is raising funds to send the boy, his mother and brother, and basketball coach to a game with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and star Stephen Curry, Shawn’s hero.

Team Baby Shawn had raised $2,750 of its goal from 81 contributors in six months. DiNardo made a quick decision: he donated the remaining $2,250 to bring the fund to its $5,000 target.

“I’m in a position to help this family out, I loved everything about the article, and I said, ‘You know what, Joe, just do it.’ ” DiNardo said. “If you start delaying, then something comes up and you get distracted.”

DiNardo returned home Sunday night from a Florida vacation with his daughter and read the article about a basketball tournament fundraiser for the boy, who was diagnosed in August with a rare but devastating brain-stem cancer called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma.

The tournament had raised $1,950 towards helping Shawn, his mother, brother and coach Mike Esposito to attend a Golden State Warriors basketball game Wednesday in Miami.

After the game, with the help of Esposito’s longtime friend, Warriors coach Steve Kerr, the family hopes to meet Curry.

Even the young boy’s obsession with basketball clicked with DiNardo, who also is a basketball fan.

The generous donation astonished Shawn’s mother, Nicole Vathy, who got the news at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. “Oh, wow, that’s really amazing,” she said. “That is so beautiful.”

Almost more important than the generous gesture, she said, is knowing that people she doesn’t know are joining her family’s struggle, which included months of treatment at St. Jude’s Research Institute in Memphis, Tenn.

“I’m not fighting it alone, and that feels amazing,” she said. “I don’t have much family, and now my friends and the community have become my family.”

Esposito said he plans to help the family get in touch with DiNardo to thank him personally.

The GoFundMe page was set up six months ago by Rebecca Stutz to help pay for medical expenses and the family’s travel to and from St. Jude’s.

The largest single donation until Tuesday was $221 from INSTALLS Inc.; most of the donations were from $10 to $50.

DiNardo’s name and company will be familiar to those who follow politics and the law.

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is an investor in DiNardo’s Counsel Financial Services.

DiNardo was appointed to the Statler Foundation in 1992 by Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina, then resigned the trustee role in 2004 after hiring Mattina, who had retired, to work at Counsel.

In 2000, DiNardo was suspended from law practice after pleading guilty to a federal tax charge.

email: aneville@buffnews.com