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Young Canton kids lose mom in November, dad in January

Deaths leave family, friends reeling

CANTON, Mass. — Stephen Furbush grilled up a meal of ribs and chicken Saturday night, watched the Patriots game with his young children and a few friends, and went to bed.

He never woke up.

The heart attack that took the life of the 39-year-old father came exactly two months and a day after his wife, Kristen, who had been battling an aggressive brain tumor, died at their home. Their children — Kayley, 6, and Patrick, 3 — were suddenly parentless, the Patriot Ledger reported.

“It’s just surreal,” said Laurice Vallancourt, who met Kristen at age 10 when both were playing basketball in Braintree. “Their kids aren’t going to have a chance to know how awesome they were.”

The two deaths have left friends and family across the South Shore reeling. A fund Stephen Furrush started last year to help put his children through college has taken on new urgency as friends work to make sure Kayley and Patrick are provided for well into the future.

An online fundraising effort had raised more than $83,000 as of early this morning, and friends are meeting this weekend to work on plans for a benefit in the couple’s honor at Dorchester’s Florian Hall on June 7. Kayley and Patrick are staying with their grandparents.

Friends describe Stephen and Kristen Furbush as a quick-witted and generous couple who cherished their children and had many close friends, some since childhood. Kristen, a longtime vice president at State Street, was part of a close-knit group of friends who came together as children in Braintree and stayed close even as they grew up and had children of their own. They called Kristen “Okie,” a nickname drawn from her maiden name of O’Keefe.

“Kristen was just – she was probably the smartest girl I ever met, and with such a fun, awesome sense of humor and so thoughtful,” Vallancourt said.

Stephen, a mortgage processor for Wellesley Bank, met Kristen while she was a student at Providence College and the two eventually married and moved to Canton, where they had lived for about five years. He loved to cook for friends and, like Kristen, had a sharp wit and loved to make people laugh.

“He just really had a unbelievable ability to leave a positive impression on everyone he met,” said Brendan Carr, a longtime friend who met Stephen in seventh grade in Framingham. “He always put everyone at ease.”

Starting last May, Kristen’s vision began to blur and she complained of frequent headaches. After an MRI, doctors found a tumor pressing on an optic nerve and started Kristen on a regiment of radiation and chemotherapy.

Stephen set up a website and kept friends and family updated on Kristen’s progress through several months of grueling but unsuccessful treatment. On Nov. 8, he reported that “the cancer is moving faster than the medical science” and said Kristen would be leaving the hospital to rest “in this house that she has transformed into our little home.”

Kristen died Nov. 11. “She just wanted to come home and get her loving arms around her two beautiful children whom she loved more than any mother ever has,” Stephen wrote that morning. “She said all her goodbyes, made her peace and set her soul free.”

Carr said Stephen was devastated by his wife’s death but focused all his energy on his kids for the next two months.

“He really did just work hard on making sure he got his kids lives back to as normal as possible,” Carr said. “He did a fabulous job of making Kayley and Patrick know that they were loved and cherished.”

Visiting hours will be held at the Dockray & Thomas Funeral Home, 455 Washington St., Canton, from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday. To donate, go to http://www.sharingcounts.com and search for “Furbush Children’s Fund.”


JoNel Aleccia NBC News

Cibolo, Tx., December 11. 2013: Alexis Shapiro, 12, had a brain tumor removed three years ago, when she was a normal-sized 9-year-old. Ever since the ...
Ilana Panich-Linsman / for NBC News
Alexis Shapiro, 12, of Cibolo, Texas, is likely to get life-saving obesity surgery within eight weeks after military health insurance officials reversed a decision denying the operation because they said she was too young.

A 12-year-old Texas girl who gained more than 140 pounds after a rare complication following brain surgery will have a weight-loss operation covered by U.S. military health insurance, her mother said Friday. 

Alexis Shapiro could be scheduled for gastric bypass surgery within eight weeks, after TRICARE, the military insurer, reversed an earlier decision to deny the surgery because the girl was too young. 

“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Jenny Shapiro, 34, of Cibolo, Texas. “I’m just so happy.” 

NBC News couldn’t immediately reach TRICARE representatives, but Jenny Shapiro said that a case manager called her with the news late Friday. The reversal came less than a week after NBC News first reported the story. 

In the meantime, well-wishers donated more than $78,000 to an online fund to help the girl, who suffers from a rare disorder that makes her gain massive amounts weight even as her body thinks it’s starving. 

The problem started in 2011 after Alexis, then a normal 9-year-old, had surgery to remove a rare benign brain tumor, which wound up damaging her hypothalamus and pituitary gland, two organs that regulate weight and appetite. 

Since then, she’s gained at least two pounds a week, climbing to nearly 200 pounds on 4-foot-7 frame, despite strict diet and exercise. At times, her parents have had to padlock kitchen cupboards because of her severe food cravings caused by the disorder. 

Dr. Thomas Inge, a pediatric obesity expert at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, says that gastric bypass surgery will stop the weight gain, help Alexis lose her extra weight and curb the food cravings. 

Jenny Shapiro emphasized her gratitude for the donations and said the money would pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance and for travel from Texas to Ohio. Any remaining will be used to help other children with similar problems, she said. 

“I just want to do what’s right for everybody,” she added. 


As I read the story about Alexis Shapiro, 12, of Cibolo, Texas and her parents, Ian and Jenny Shapiro, battle to obtain surgery to have a benign tumor removed from their daughters brain so that she won’t eat herself to death sickened me.  I suffer from a great deal of my own neurological issues and have friends who were literally walking dead until they had life saving surgery of other kinds.  I’m sure most people are well aware of just how serious any brain tumor can be whether it is benign or malignant.  Tumors obstruct vital parts in the brain and can and will cause severe dysfunction on any part of the brain it wants to latch itself onto.  I’m by no means speaking as a doctor, just a patient with my own experiences.

I question how any insurance company such as “Tricare” would not find a way to work around their bariatric surgery rule based on the severity of a patients symptoms, in this case, Alexis Shapiro’s. It is my hope that whatever powers that be will open their eyes to the needs of young Alexis. Many other patients have thrived once receiving this surgery and their are more than enough documented cases reflected in the NBC article “Obese, but starving: Girl, 12, denied weight-loss surgery for rare illness” for them to refer to. I would like to see a change made by all insurance companies whereby they are required to make changes on a case by case basis in their rulings so that no child’s life hangs in the balance because of a simple age rule. Disease does not care how young or old you are, it takes its victims as it chooses and no one should be left powerless to fight that battle, especially when a child is involved.

I wish the Shapiro family luck in their search for help for their daughter Alexis.

Felina Silver Robinson