Fundraiser for young patient Blades volunteer firemen holding dinner for Brittani Bragg-Wortmann

By Lynn R. Parks

Until she got sick last summer, Brittani Bragg-Wortmann was a happy child.

"She was an excellent softball player," said her step-father, Steve Corsi. "She loved her school and was a great help around the house. And she was a healthy kid."

That all changed in July, when Brittani, who was a student at Seaford Middle School, started getting one ear infection after another. In December, she was admitted to the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children near Wilmington, where doctors diagnosed her with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH disease), a disorder of the immune system. Patients with active HLH have too many histiocytes, or infection-fighting cells, which accumulate in the body's tissue and can damage a variety of organs. The disease, according to the Histiocytosis Association of America, can be life-threatening.

"This is really a rare disease," Corsi said. Her team of doctors, which Corsi describes as "incredible," is working with doctors at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, who have more experience with HLH disease.

Next Saturday, the Blades Volunteer Fire Department, where Corsi is a volunteer, will hold a benefit dinner to raise money for Brittani and her family. The all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner will be held at the Seaford Moose Lodge and will feature a silent auction and cake raffle.

Any money that the dinner raises will come in handy, said Corsi, who has his own business, N.J. Flooring, and is a driver for LifeStar Ambulance. While the family has health insurance, they will need to renovate their home to accommodate a wheelchair for when Brittani is released from the hospital. In addition, Brittani's mother, Kristen, is staying with her daughter in the hospital and has to buy all her meals.

Corsi said that the road ahead for his daughter is unclear. Doctors are working to rid her body of the chronic infections she has had since July. They are trying numerous antibiotics, including those that are not yet on the market, he said.

To keep Brittani stabilized, doctors are giving her steroids. The steroids cause fluid to accumulate in her body. Since January, she hasn't been able to walk because of fluid accumulation in her back and hips.

Once the infections are cleared up, doctors intend to give Brittani a bone marrow transplant, which should, "if there are no complications," cure her from HLH disease, Corsi said. It is possible that she will get her transplant within the next couple of months. The hospital is in the process of finding a matching donor.

But even then, she will have a tough way to go, Corsi added. Following the procedure, she will spend 100 days in the hospital and even after being discharged, will have to go back twice a week for checkups. And she will have to undergo intensive physical therapy to get her muscles working again.

"We are optimistic," Corsi said. "Hope is all we can have right now."

Despite that optimism, Corsi said that Brittani's family, including her brothers Mark Bragg-Wortmann, 16, and Nicholas Corsi, 7, and sister, Jessica Corsi, 5, "have our moments of ups and downs." To make things easier, especially for Nicholas, who misses his older sister, the family has started communicating with Brittani through Skype, which allows them to see each other.

Even so, "everybody's lost a little bit of something," Corsi said. "Everybody's out of whack and off schedule. We are trying to handle it as best we can, but we know that we have a long road ahead."

For your information: An all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner to benefit Brittani Bragg-Wortmann and her family will be Saturday, April 9, at the Seaford Moose Lodge, sponsored by the Blades Volunteer Fire Department. Tickets, $7.50 for adults and $3.50 for children younger than 8, will be available at the door. In addition, an account for Brittani has been set up at PNC Bank. Donations to the Brittani Bragg-Wortmann Foundation are welcome.

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