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Variety Club Telethon looks through the eyes of children

News Staff Reporter
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Bill Wippert/The Buffalo News
Variety Club Telethon Celebrity Child Brianna Wik, 7, is shown with her parents Deanna and Ron. The telethon airs beginning at 10 p.m. Saturday on Channel 7.


Just five months pregnant, Deanna Wik of Grand Island, got the scare of her life. She and husband, Ron, were told by doctors their baby might not make it. Deanna Wik's kidneys and liver soon started shutting down, and she underwent an emergency Caesarian section at Women and Children's Hospital in Buffalo.

"We didn't know what to expect," she recalls.

The couple's daughter Brianna, born months too early, was only the size of a ruler, weighing a mere 21 ounces. Tiny Brianna had trouble breathing and there was a chance she could be blind. Surgeries, before her first birthday, prevented that.

Today Brianna, now 7, can see just fine in her first-grade class at Charlotte Sidway School in Grand Island, where she's reading and known as a smart little girl. And that will be apparent to viewers of the 43rd annual Variety Club Telethon - that starts at 10 p.m. Saturday and runs to 7 p.m. Sunday on Channel 7. Brianna is the telethon's "2005 Celebrity Child." The 21-hour telethon, broadcast live from the Sheraton Hotel in Cheektowaga, is the longest, locally produced telethon on the planet.

"It's for the kids," Brianna points out.

Donations to this year's telethon will help fund Women and Children's Hospital's eighth floor Inpatient Hematology/Oncology Unit and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Patient Monitoring System.

"The eighth floor helps children stricken with childhood cancer by making life comfortable for them, while delivering the most modern patient care," explains Michael A. Benevento, of the telethon. "The Pediatric Monitoring System will more capably track patient conditions, and thereby allow Women and Children's Hospital to provide higher quality care to the most critically ill and injured children. The Variety Club has a long history of supporting critical care units and equipment at the hospital."

This year's theme is "Look Through Our Eyes" - which has lot of meaning to the Wik family.

"When you look through the eyes of the beautiful children whom we help, we all realize that every dollar raised is so important to the kids of Western New York," says Kathy Kaminski, telethon general chairwoman. "You want to be able to do all you can to help them." Last year's telethon raised more than $1.3 million. Kaminski is joined in her efforts by honorary chairman restaurateur Russ Salvatore.

Kaminski, whose nephew was born developmentally delayed, is the first female crew chief for the Town of Amherst Highway Department. She coordinates all tree planting in the town, including the Amherst Memorial Trail.

Telethon viewers can look forward to the appearance of actress Christine Estabrook, a native of East Aurora, who now plays evil, nosy neighbor, Mrs. Martha Huber, on the mega-hit "Desperate Housewives."

She'll team up with actress Ilene Graff, best known to audiences as Marsha Owens, the mom on the long-running comedy "Mr. Belvedere." Also look for the 2005 Miss New York State, Christine Ellington, a trained performer in voice, dance and acting.

And you'll be hearing the voice of "American Idol's" John Stevens, the Williamsville East High School senior who performed on the reality competition series.

The telethon wouldn't be the telethon without the antics of "Bowzer" (a.k.a. "Grease" 's Jon Bauman), "Airborne" Eddy Dobosiewicz and many others.

Telethon "Celebrity Child" Brianna Wik and her family have not forgotten the swift expertise they benefited from at Women and Children's Hospital.

Each Christmas, she and her family take gifts to families in the intensive care nursery. Knowing how great the need is, they assist with fund-raising throughout the year. Deanna Wik explains that "we just want to let families in the hospital know that we were once in the same boat, too."