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The worst kind of coincidence

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The worst kind of coincidence

Making a goodwill tour, Jet finds cousin in hospital



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June 24, 2007

Eighteen Jets rookies stopped by the Ronald McDonald House in New Hyde Park Wednesday in hopes of uplifting the families of sick children, but for one Jet, the visit became much more than a perfunctory pop-in.

Mike DeVito, an undrafted defensive end, had to cut the smiling-and-signing session short when he ran into his cousin, Karen Zangri, who was a resident at the House.

Karen's 10-month-old son, Benedetto, was born prematurely and was admitted to neighboring Schneider Children's Hospital, and Karen checked into the House at 3 a.m. Wednesday.

After talking with his cousin, whom RMH workers described as "exhausted," DeVito rushed over to see his younger cousin.

The hospital wouldn't divulge the baby's condition and family members couldn't be reached for comment.

The family is from Massachusetts, and according to House manager Karen Calma, Karen was given a room because she had nowhere else to stay. She also had no idea her cousin was scheduled to make an appearance there.

The Ronald McDonald House, which opened in 1986, serves as temporary lodging for the families of ill children who are admitted to area hospitals, and others who come to America seeking medical aid for their kids but have no place to live. Families are charged $25 per night, but the fee is waived if they're unable to pay.

According to Robert Weitzner, the executive director of the Ronald McDonald House, the Jets have been working with the House since its inception and had a room dedicated to them after a $150,000 donation in 2004. Former Jets defensive back Bobby Jackson serves on the board of directors.

The 17 players who remained were able to bring a rare smile to the face of Muhammed Khan, a 2-year-old who has a heart ailment.

Muhammed and his mother, Noureen, flew from Pakistan this month for Muhammed's open-heart surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. Because she has no family in the United States, Noureen was referred to the Ronald McDonald House, which is about a 90-minute drive from the hospital. The visit from the Jets, she said, was a welcome sight in what has been a difficult period.

"It was special. At first [Muhammed] was a little shy about seeing so many big people, but he got familiar with [the players] and they were all so nice to him," Noureen said. "They took pictures and let him play with a football. He was playing so much with the guys that I got worried his sutures might [tear]."

Muhammed, who was diagnosed last year with Tetralogy of Fallot disease - a condition in which the heart has four abnormalities - had the operation June 5 and was discharged from Montefiore on Tuesday.

The medical staff there said he was doing fine. He spent the week with his mom and headed back to Pakistan yesterday with memories and memorabilia.

Newsday tried to interview the taciturn toddler, but he stuck his fingers in his ears before running off and diving into a couch.


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