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Children's Home names 'Courageous Mother'

When Isabel DiChiazza was diagnosed with an unknown degenerative neurological disorder at 18 months, her parents quickly learned how difficult it was to provide the care she needed with no family members living close to their Mt. Lebanon home.

"When my husband Mike and I realized that Isabel wasn't getting better, we knew that we needed some help caring for her during the day while we both had to work," Genie DiChiazza said.

Enter the Children's Home & Lemieux Family Center on Penn Avenue in Bloomfield, which offers a day-care program for medically fragile children.

"We were very happy to find the Child's Way day-care program at the Children's Home because it was a place where Isabel was not judged by her special needs and could receive the specialized medical treatment she needed," said DiChiazza, whose daughter died in June 2008.

DiChiazza, 39, received the center's first "Courageous Mother" award, part of a fundraising effort this month for Child's Way and other services, which include an adoption program and a pediatric specialty hospital.

Dan Musher, the center's director of development, said when it decided to honor the courage mothers exhibit when their children face serious medical issues, DiChiazza "was a natural choice" as the inaugural honoree.

"After Isabel passed away, Genie purchased one our memorial bricks to honor her daughter's life and battle," Musher said.

"Genie came by to see the brick last fall and while we were walking down the path toward it, I recall thinking that she was such an amazing woman to have gone through so much and still come away with a positive outlook and a desire to do something to give back to the organization that helped her child."

Pam Schanwald, the organization's chief executive officer, said DiChiazza "truly embodies the spirit and courage so many parents exhibit daily when dealing with special-needs children."

"Genie was such a dedicated advocate for her daughter and continues to advocate for children with special needs," Schanwald said. "We hope this will be the start of a yearly effort to highlight and honor true heroes who have exhibited extraordinary courage."

DiChiazza said many people have called to congratulate her.

"People told me how deserving I was, but I really feel that I'm no different than any other mother who is dealing with the kinds of things that we went through," DiChiazza said. "I was just a mom doing what she had to do to help her child."

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