By Connor Adams Sheets
When Theresa Buccellato went to Cascarino’s restaurant in College Point to get a bite to eat with friends Aug. 16, she was a happy, exuberant 16-year-old with dreams of studying at St. John’s University for a career as a veterinarian or helping children with disabilities.
She left the restaurant in a stretcher, having suffered from an unexpected pulmonary embolism, and died shortly thereafter at New York Hospital Queens.
Her parents, Whitestone residents Michael and Laura Buccellato, are devastated that their daughter will never again play softball or fill their home with songs by her favorite performer, Adam Lambert.
“She knew everyone in Whitestone and College Point. Every school, you name it, she knew someone in it. She was very friendly,” Laura Buccellato said. “Her friends have been coming by a lot. They’re posting on her Facebook every day.”
But the Buccellatos are determined to ensure that the life of the their daughter, who turned 16 July 7, will not have been lost in vain, and they are planning a memorial benefit concert for Oct. 15.
That is the date the parents had set aside for a gala Mardis Gras-themed Sweet 16 event, and instead of a joyous celebration of all she had before her, the event will be a chance to remember her love for music and her ability to make friends with anyone.
The event will raise funds for scholarships to help students pay for education at her beloved high school, St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows — where the event will be held — as a means of honoring Theresa.
“I didn’t want her Sweet 16 to come and go with nothing on it. I wanted to do something for her on that date,” Laura Buccellato said. “I knew she would love the concert, and we want to help people with the scholarships.”
Though the event will be an uplifting affair, the Buccellatos have additional heaviness in their hearts because of the way their daughter died.
After ordering food at Cascarino’s with two young friends, Theresa started having trouble breathing and complaining about pain in her back, and after 30 to 45 minutes one of her friends called Michael Buccellato to tell him. He headed straight to the eatery.
“When I got there her head was down on the table, her head was white, she was ice-cold and her lips were blue. First I thought maybe she took something. I asked and she kind of started fighting me and said she doesn’t do drugs,” Michael Buccellato said. “She was laid out on the table and she was growling. It was agonal breathing, it’s the sound you make when you’re dying.”
He dialed 911, realizing something was wrong with his daughter, and she was loaded onto a stretcher, dying minutes later from a pulmonary embolism brought on by a blood disorder no one knew she had.
The Buccellatos believe something could have been done to help their daughter. If a worker at the restaurant had called an ambulance earlier, they said, or helped her instead of continuing to serve pizza, they believe their daughter might still be with them.
“There were quite a few people there that night, and no one did anything,” Laura Buccellato said. “I don’t know if they would have saved her by calling 911, but she needed oxygen. At least there would have been a better chance.”
Rob Cascarino, the eatery’s owner, said he believes his staff did everything they could do, and that they could never have predicted the dire status of Theresa’s health in the moments before she died. Cascarino was on vacation at the time.
“If we knew that she had a blood clot in her leg and that she was going to pass away, don’t you think we would have acted more quickly? It’s just an unfortunate situation. It could have happened anywhere,” he said. “My deepest sympathies to the family, but it’s not fair that she’s blaming us for her daughter’s death. We can’t be blamed for her daughter’s death.”
The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 in the auditorium at St. Francis Preparatory School at 61-00 Francis Lewis Blvd. Tickets are $15 and must be purchased in advanced by calling the school at 718-423-8810 ext. 324, ask for Justine. No tickets will be sold at the door. The Buccellatos ask that all attendees wear something purple, as that was their daughter’s favorite color.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.