4-year-old in a fight for his life

Reece LoCicero has been a regular at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles for most of his life. Some employees there even know his favorite video games.

The 4-year-old is scheduled to be back again today, this time for a surgery that's never been done on someone so young.

He's been frequenting doctors since he was a 10-month-old, and in that time he's been treated for recurring skin sores, internal bleeding, asthma and fevers of up to 106 degrees.

It has perplexed doctors as much as it's drained the Montrose family's ability to make ends meet. With constant medical appointments to keep, Reece's mother lost her office job. His dad's work hours have been cut, and they've been forced to move in with his grandmother.

"He practically lived in a hospital the first years of his life," Reece's 29-year-old mother, Natalia LoCicero, said. "It's been a roller coaster."

Reece's condition baffles doctors no matter how many biopsies or scans or tests or surgeries or colonoscopies are performed. The most common explanations for Reece's bleeding have all been ruled out, said Byrnie Collins, a gastroenterologist who began treating Reece at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles in November 2008.

"At this point, we're kind of at a loss," she said. "We have a plan to hopefully come up with a set of answers, and then the plan leads us nowhere."

Reece earned the nickname "Little Slugger" on his Little League team for his relentless effort. He can throw a baseball, kick a soccer ball and school anyone in Nintendo Wii.

"I like reading too," he said.

He's growing nicely and is at a healthy weight, Collins said.

But that's where the normalcy ends.

"We don't know if Reece will live two years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now," LoCicero said. "We have no idea. We don't know what it is."

Reece was pulled from preschool after contracting meningitis. Enrolling in kindergarten is still an open question too.

"He might start kindergarten depending on how everything looks," LoCicero said. "I'm constantly talking with doctors, should I put him in school, shouldn't I put him in school? What if I put him in school and he starts bleeding?

"We're trying to find out what's best for him, and no one can tell us."

At home in his kitchen Tuesday, Reece pulled his shirt up to reveal a quarter-sized, blister-like mark above his right hip, one of many marks dotting his body.

"They don't know what it is," LoCicero said. "It's all inconclusive. They thought they were moles, they thought they were vascular lesions."

All the tests on the skin spots were inconclusive, and doctors haven't been able to link the symptoms or chronic illnesses, Collins said. All they have been able to conclude is that whatever the trigger is for Reece's pains, it's not genetic.

"It has been a long road for them, going piece to piece to piece, making sure they've covered all their bases," Collins said. "To bounce back and have faith and optimism that you will get to the bottom of it is very difficult for parents."

Camp for Reece is out of the question. Like their experience trying to enroll in Medi-Cal, the family makes just enough to be disqualified from free summer camps.

Those formulas don't take medical bills into account, LoCicero said. Four months' worth of bills cover the family's kitchen table. And the LoCiceros have taken out $20,000 in loans to pay off the numerous surgeries and procedures.

They also left their Ocean View Boulevard apartment about 18 months ago to move in to Reece's grandmother's home off Honolulu Avenue. Reece recently befriended two children who live nearby, and watching them throw a baseball around brought immense relief and joy to the family, Natalia LoCicero said.

"It was really nice to see because we don't get to see that too much," she said. "He was so excited … to play catch."

Natalia LoCicero pulled a June 21 bill for $5,200 while Reece tickled his 8-month-old brother, Joshua, eliciting piercing squeals.

"It's $5,000 here, $2,000 there, and this is all with insurance," Natalia LoCicero said.

Reece's father, 32-year-old Jason LoCicero, used to bring home $3,200 to $3,600 every month transporting fancy cars for celebrities and the entertainment industry. With cuts to his hours and reduced overtime opportunities, his monthly take of $2,000 doesn't cover medical bills.

"My benefits have gone down and been cut so much, we've had to go out on our own," he said.

Caring for her son, taking him to appointments when her husband could not, cost Natalia LoCicero her job as an office manager.

"They said they needed to hire someone with fewer responsibilities," she said.

The family established Reece's Medical Fund to help pay their debts. Checks and money orders can be sent to 4455 Arden Drive in El Monte, 91731 — an address where Natalia LoCicero said she used to work. Whatever funds left over will be donated to Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, she said.

"We're new to this, I'm new to this. We have people telling us things to do — I just don't know where to start," Natalia LoCicero said. "It's really hard to sit there and ask the community for help, you know?

"It's like, you just don't know what to do. I don't think I've ever really seen myself ask anybody for help."

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World