Life ain’t easy for Matteo Carini.
Not only was the 6-year-old from Mentor born with Down’s syndrome. He also suffers from Crohn’s disease and grapples with liver failure.
But, quite possibly, the biggest disappointment the little guy had to face lately was that his dad, Marco, was forced to travel to his native Italy the day before Matteo’s sixth birthday Aug. 28.
“He was just so upset,” his mom, Angela Carini said. “Really — he was just laying on the floor and didn’t want to move.”
Matteo, whose Down’s syndrome has left him largely nonverbal, just wanted his dad around for his big day, his mom said, until a friend secretly set up a visit to his home by some Mentor firefighters.
“He just loves fire trucks,” Carini said. “And, so, when the fire engine showed up at our house Sunday, he just got right up and it was like ‘what dad?”
“My son went from being sad that his daddy wasn’t here to screaming as they stopped at his house just for him,” Carini shared in an Aug. 29 email. “He held the hose and got to go inside the fire truck and ambulance.”
She added that “he doesn’t like gifts and has never asked for anything. He is thrilled with a balloon. But this day I will treasure forever.”
But little did Carini, Matteo or his little brother, Luca, 4, know they had another surprise from the fire department waiting just a few days away.
>> Photos: Mentor boy with Down’s syndrome gets surprise party, Sept. 1, 2016
On Sept. 1, Carini, her two boys and her mom, Loretta Bensen of Ashtabula, were invited to Mentor’s Fire Station No. 5, the Mentor Fire Department’s headquarters on Civic Center Boulevard, for a surprise party for Matteo, complete with a tour of the big station, a ride in a fire truck and even birthday cake.
Mentor Fire Chief Robert Searles said it’s a treat to serve the community in this way, especially because it’s the community’s fire department.
“You know, the fire station belongs to the community and we are so appreciative of all the support we get from our residents,” Searles said as Matteo, Luca, their mom and grandma all enjoyed some birthday cake inside the fire station. “This is a special day and we want to make it special for Matteo because of his interest in the fire service.”
According Matteo’s mom, that interest runs deep.
“My son is nonverbal, so the day of his birthday he pointed to a YouTube video of fire trucks when I said ‘What do you want for your birthday?,” Carini said. “So I handed him his toy one and he said ‘na,” which is no. So I pointed to a real fire truck and he said “cha!” which is (yes). I laughed and put our funny moment as my post on Facebook.”
She said she told Matteo the only way a real fire truck would come by on his birthday would be to call 911, “and that isn’t going to happen, so sorry, buddy.”
A few hours later, thanks to some friends, a real fire truck showed up at their home.
“This day, I will treasure forever and the boys will never forget how special they made this day,” she said.
Carini said the next thing she knew, the fire department contacted her to offer the boys a tour of the “big station.”
“It was really heart warming!” she said.
That warmth seemed to spill out all over Station No. 5 on Sept. 1 when Matteo, his brother, mom and grandmom not only got to tour the place, but got a ride around the parking lot in a fire truck, a birthday cake, Mentor Fire Department T-shirts and the kinds of memories that last a lifetime.
“You know, I think, for him, it’s going to be a lifetime memory, and we’re thankful he got to come here and we get to be a part of that” said fire Lt. Bob Evans. “I mean, we do birthday parties and that kind of thing when we can, but for a little guy to get to come here like this is a pretty special thing. His dad’s out of the country and it’s just a little thing that we could do to hopefully make this birthday a little special for him.”
By the time the candles were blown out, the birthday song was sung and the smiles were still in perma-grin mode all around, Carini said she was beside herself with gratitude.
“Oh my God — I don’t even have words for this,” she said. “This is honestly a day that I will never forget. It’s like a dream come true for me, for Matteo and all of us.”
Her mom agreed.
“Angie had made a humorous comment about dialing 911 to get a fire truck to show up for his birthday,” Bensen said. “The next thing I knew, the Mentor Fire Department had stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.”