Chris "Gambo" Gambacorta
A note from Chris's sister, Danielle
We are thankful to the Gambacorta and DeGennaro families for sharing their story with us.
Thank you to Joe and Denise Palmiotto for sharing their daughter Italia’s story with us.
On August 10, 2014, Italia Palmiotto gave birth to her son, CJ, whom her dad Joe says "she loved more than anything". Just weeks later, on August 26, 2014, Italia died of a heroin overdose. She was 22 years old.
Italia’s story is similar to others in that she was a happy, healthy teenager who loved her family, attended school, played sports and had many friends. At some point in her junior year in high school, things changed. Her family went through years of rehabs and recovery centers and never gave up.
In an Instagram post about her father, Italia wrote: “I love my father with all my heart we may fight here and there but he has always been there to support me, guide me, and love me unconditionally, he has the key to my heart and always will.”
When we met Joe at an Opioid Change the Conversation series last year, we were struck by his raw emotion and honesty in telling Italia’s story.
We want to thank him for bringing awareness to the needs of women and girls in the opioid epidemic. It is because of Joe that we have come to realize that there are very few places specifically for women seeking help with addiction.
It is our hope that Italia’s memory will change the way we see addiction and that the Palmiotto family will find peace knowing she is part of that change.
A portion of the proceeds from the 3rd Annual REACH at the BEACH event was donated to the Walter Hoving Home for Women in Italia's memory.
Alec Lewkowicz died of a heroin overdose on July 8th, 2018. He was 27 years old. We learned about Alec's death while hosting REACH at the BEACH last year. Alec's mom, Kathy, is an old New Rochelle friend and we just couldn't believe that yet another life had been lost. Kathy describes her son as a kind, loving soul who loved his family and his friends. He loved music, concerts and the San Francisco 49ers. It is our hope that Alec's family find comfort knowing that Alec is helping to change how we see addiction. The proceeds from 3rd Annual REACH at the BEACH will be donated to the St Christopher's Inn in Alec's memory. We are thankful to the Lewkowicz and Iannuzzi family for sharing their story.
A portion of the proceeds from the 3rd Annual REACH at the BEACH event was donated to St. Christopher's Inn in Alec's memory.
An open letter from Alec's siblings, Ryan and Tara
We are thankful to Ryan and Tara Lewkowicz for sharing their story with us.
Funny, kind, gregarious and loving are just a few of the words we would use to describe our brother Alec. Our brother died from an accidental overdose on July 8th, 2018. For the majority of Alec’s battle with addiction, we found it difficult to understand his struggles... as I’m sure many do when they themselves are not an addict. As the years went on and Alec battled fearsome lows, followed by admirable highs, we were able to learn a lot about his addiction. Alec had many great traits and one of his greatest ones was his ability to connect with people. He could carry a conversation with anyone who crossed his path. In fact, he often found himself guiding and supporting other people who were suffering all while he was struggling with his addiction. No matter how great he was doing in life, staying on the right path would always be a challenge. We’ve learned along the way that we showed Alec as much love as possible during his journey. Without a doubt there was frustration and pain, but when all was said and done our big brother knows he was loved. He would want us to be here today helping others to triumph in their struggles. As sad as we are that our brother’s life was cut short, we’ve learned so much from him. We will miss Alec everyday for the rest of our lives.
Ryan and Tara Lewkowicz
Ryan, Tara and Alec Lewkowicz
An open letter from Eileen DiMaggio about her son, Andrew
We are thankful to Eileen and Andy DiMaggio for sharing their story with us.
From the moment Andrew was born, to the moment he left this earth, he was loved. Not only by his family, but anyone whose path he crossed. Andrew was a friend to everyone. He was kind, caring, fun, loving and had a big heart and a smile that lit up a room. He was naturally talented at everything he did. He loved snowboarding, skateboarding, dirt bike riding, hiking, photography, and anything outdoors. He had a very adventurous side and was fearless. What Andrew loved most, was his family. He had a great relationship with his brothers, sister-in-law, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Each and every one of them have their own special memory with him. He seemed to have it all.
We first learned of Andrew's addiction when he was 23 years old. We were completely devastated and immediately worked to get him help. We knew all too well the battle he had ahead of him. Sadly, addiction was nothing new to our family. In 1975, my brother Jimmy died of an overdose and in 2013 my brother Jackie also died of an overdose after living in recovery for over 20 years. Like Andrew, they were great sons and brothers and are missed every day. No parent should ever have to bury their child and my parents buried two sons and then their grandson. They are incredible parents and grandparents and didn't deserve this.
Andrew told me became physically and mentally addicted after his first use. He was at a party drinking and someone told him to try it, "it would be fun". It was a decision he soon realized was anything but fun and wished he'd never tried it. He fought desperately to overcome the tremendous grip heroin had on him. Every single day was a battle for him, as well as for all those who loved him and watched him suffer. For the next two years, we did all we could to help him. Despite all the love and guidance, the rehabs and detoxes, his perseverance and persistence, heroin suffocated every dream he had.
On October 14, 2017, Andrew died of an accidental overdose. Throughout his struggle to overcome his addiction, he shared with me his feelings of guilt and shame. He told me he was embarrassed and believed he had let his family down. He wanted so desperately to overcome his addiction. The horrible stigma that exists about addiction and those who are plagued by the disease needs to be changed. We must show kindness and compassion, offer help without judgement, avoid hurtful names and encourage treatment for those who are lost and alone. For those who don't understand that it's a disease... do your research and learn how dependency develops, unknowingly and without regard to who you are, where you live, or how much you're loved. Addiction is a disease that changes your brain's chemistry. It manipulates your mind and steals your life. Insurance companies have come a long way, but 28 days isn't enough time. It could take years before an addict's brain is clear. Health insurance must change to meet the needs of the addicted and treat the disease as we do other illnesses.
It is my hope, that in telling Andrew's story, that he will be part of the change, by changing the way people think about addiction and ensuring those afflicting are treated for their illness.
Andrew, we all miss you and will love you forever!
If your family would like to share their own personal story of loss, recovery, or hope, please contact us.
Chris was always warm, kind and his smile could light up the room. Growing up with him was always an adventure. I will always remember the crazy things he would do...spraying PAM on the tiled floor to "ice skate" with our cousins and friends, or lighting a bonfire in the living room and using hair spray to put it out ! Our Nona must have loved watching him do that. Gian-Michael and I see that same adventurous spirit in our own boys. Chris would do all he could to be a kid again, right down to the time he tried to balance a ladder on his nose.
Last March when COVID hit, Chris came to live with my us. I will thank God everyday, that we had this past year to be together. It was like old times again. We would tease him and call him "March Madness" because he became the boss of the house and ordered us all around. COVID gave us cherished time with Chris, and I could not have gotten through this past year without him.
As many of you know, Chris suffered from addiction. His desire to live a life of sobriety was a testament to his love of his family, his faith in God and his strength of character.
I was never as proud of him as I was when he successfully graduated from Elmcore Drug Court 4 years ago. He invited me to come for support, and when the judge talked about him and how proud she was of him, my heart was full. He stepped off the stage and we shared the biggest hug. It was at that moment I thought to myself, he is going to be OK. He went on to get good job, an apartment and recently a girlfriend, Diane. He was so happy. His life was really good.
Sadly, on February 6th all of our lives would be changed forever. When I received the call that I dreaded my whole life, my best friend, my partner in crime was no longer with us.
Chris and I weren't simply brother and sister, we shared true, unconditional love for one another. There was always love, always forgiveness, a lot of laughter and some tears. I will miss him forever. His memory will live on in me and in Lorenzo and Gianluca.
On behalf of my parents, we would like to recognize the countless people that helped Chris on his journey for recovery, especially Joe Difabbio and my husband, Gian-Michael. To our family and friends who have supported us this past week, with cards, calls, visits, food and love, we are eternally grateful to each of you.
To my baby brother, this is for you. You are no longer suffering, you are no longer battling demons, you are finally at peace. I know God welcomed you into heaven with open arms. I find comfort knowing you are now a guardian angel watching over me, mommy, daddy, Gian-Michael and the boys. I love you very much. All my love always, Your Sissy.