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Wish granted for Florida boy
February 19, 2019

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LAKE PLACID - A year ago, young Tiago Cusano was at home in Florida watching the Winter Olympics on television while recovering from a cancer surgery that was followed by two and a half months of radiation treatment.

This past weekend, on a trip sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the 8-year-old was in Lake Placid with his family, experiencing a North Country winter for the first time. The youngster's dream was to ride in a bobsled, and not only did Tiago see that happen, he was treated to a whole lot more.

On Saturday, Tiago, his 12-year-old sister Gianna, and his mom and dad Elena and Kevin, were given VIP treatment at Mount Van Hoevenberg on the second day of bobsled and skeleton racing during World Cup action at the track.

During a break between the skeleton and bobsled events early Saturday afternoon, the Cusano family and Make-A-Wish representatives met with the media near the bottom of the track to describe their adventurous weekend, as well as explain how their trip came to be. Olympic bobsledders Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs were also among the celebrities who gave Tiago the royal treatment at the track on Saturday.

The first thing that was revealed about Tiago was that he had never seen snow before arriving in Lake Placid, and it didn't take long for him to become an "expert snowball thrower."

Bob Bullock, the chief operating officer for the Make-A-Wish Northern New York Chapter, and a former bobsledder himself, introduced the family, and then turned things over to the Cusano family. Father Jeff spoke first to talk about his son's ordeal with cancer and how his fascination with bobsledding came about.

"About 15 months ago, Tiago had an MRI due to some complications, and we found that he had a brain tumor located near the brain stem," Kevin Cusano said, explaining that it was an ependymoma. "We were told (it was) very rare. About 200 diagnosed per year."

Kevin went on to say the tumor was completely removed at the Nicklaus Childrens' Hospital in Miami. Tiago then received more than two months of radiation treatments in Jacksonville at the University of Florida's Proton Center.

"Shortly after that he was watching the Winter Olympics as he recovered, and fell in love with the Winter Olympics, bobsledding in particular, snowboarding as well. He really enjoyed all of that," Kevin said. "(It) helped him in his recovery process."

Kevin went on to say that Tiago told him "I want to ride one of those one day."

"So here we are," Kevin said. "We're thankful to Make-A-Wish. ... Very welcoming and above and beyond what we ever expected."

The Cusano family lives in Miami Springs, Florida, and arrived in Lake Placid on Friday. They headed home Monday after four days of fun in the Olympic Region. And during their stay, Tiago, a very quiet young boy, captured the hearts of everyone who crossed his path.

The family stayed at the Mirror Lake Inn on Friday, where Tiago became friends with Andrew Weibrecht, Lake Placid's two-time Olympic alpine skiing medalist. They spent the day at the track Saturday witnessing the skeleton and bobsled races, and then returned to Mount Van Hoevenberg Sunday for a bobsled ride.

Tiago also spent Monday at Whiteface Mountain where he received a snowboarding lesson, and the family also visited the Olympic Center and the Olympic Museum. Another highlight of the trip took place Saturday after the conclusion of the World Cup when Tiago had a Face Time conversation with Devon Harris, a three-time Olympian and an original member of Jamaica's bobsled team. And adding to the fun, Tiago also enjoyed a sled dog ride on Mirror Lake and a trip down the toboggan chute.

On Sunday, Tiago was met at the front door of the Olympic Training Center by members of the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Team who were making their way to Calgary, Canada for the final stop on this winter's World Cup tour. After befriending the entire group, Tiago was made an official member of the team and was presented with his own U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation identification card.

Bullock spent loads of time with the Cusanos during their stay. He said although Tiago came to Lake Placid for a bobsled ride, he was able to head home with a whole lot more.

"When I asked Tiago what his favorite part of the trip was, he said 'Everything,' Bullock said. "Tiago told me he wished he could do it all over again."

Bullock said the whole Lake Placid community greeted the Cusanos with open arms, and gave special thanks to the Mirror Lake Inn, the Olympic Regional Development Authority, the staff at Whiteface Mountain and the OTC.

Bullock added that helping children and their families through Make-A-Wish is a win-win relationship.

"We heard about Tiago's story, and from that point, it was our special hope that they would pick us out of all the places around the world where they could have gone, and the people of Lake Placid have been fantastic," Bullock said. "Our job is to grant heartfelt wishes to kids and provide them with hope, strength and joy.

"We serve kids age two-and-a-half to 18, all of them dealing with critical medical conditions," Bullock continued. "Boy, when we have an opportunity to work with a family like this, give them an opportunity to do something they've always wanted to do, it really makes our hearts feel very, very large. I think we have a future bobsledder here."

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