PITTSTON — Christopher Gentner had a contagious smile, one that immediately boosted the morale of everyone who had the pleasure of sharing a room with him.
Unfortunately, Christopher is now smiling from the heavens as he passed away June 26 at the age of 16 after struggling with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, or DMD.
According to Christopher’s mom, Carina Fortini, DMD is a severe childhood form of Muscular Dystrophy that leaves a child with loss of mobility starting with their legs and eventually moving up the body and causing heart failure.
“Christopher was diagnosed at the age of 4,” fortini said. “We knew something was wrong because he was falling. No 3 or 4-year-old falls. It’s hard to be diagnosed young, like baby age, because babies fall. When my 3-year-old is falling, I knew something was wrong.”
The Pittston Area sophomore was confined to a wheelchair and eventually could no longer use his arms.
He was homebound for most of this past school year and under the care of his mom and stepdad, Robert Wardell.
DMD is caused by genes and, while there is no family history of it, Fortini carries the gene and has also passed it on to her other son Aiden.
Because of funeral expenses for Christopher and caring for his brother have added up, family friend Nicole Dohman set up a GoFundMe account to help the family financially.
Dohman was Christopher’s kindergarten and first-grade learning support teacher. Her mom was his middle school teacher, so she maintained a friendship with him.
“That’s just how it is,” she said. “You don’t have a set amount of kids; they’re your kids forever. As soon as we heard what happened, we set (the GoFundMe) up.”
The goal is $15,000 and, so far, over $10,000 has been raised. Monies will help pay for Christopher’s funeral and other things his family needs.
“I can’t even explain; we’re more than thankful and grateful,” Fortini said of Dohman’s generosity. “We didn’t know what to do. I can’t even thank her or anyone else involved. I can’t thank them enough. It’s a blessing to have people like that in our lives.”
Despite his setbacks, Christopher was always smiling and was one of the smartest kids in school, which included being named to the honor roll several times,
He was a life skills class student, and Pittson Area Principal Dr. John Haas was one of his biggest supporters.
“It was heartbreaking news,” Haas said when learning of Christopher’s passing. “What a great kid. That (life skills) class I’m in probably more than any other class in the building. They brighten your day. Christopher never didn’t have a smile on his face.”
Danaue Kemzura was Christopher’s life skills teacher in high school and would go to his house to help him with school work when he was homebound.
She said he loved gym and math, but would often forego his work to talk about football, particularly the New England Patriots.
“He loved his math, but he would tell me at home, ‘We’re done now’ and we would talk about the Madden video game,” Kemzura said. “I’m a New York Giants fan and he was a Patriots fan and loves Tom Brady, so we had a bit of a rivalry going on.”
Another Patriots football team Christopher rooted for was the Pittston area Patriots, and he was often found on the sidelines for each home game.
Kemzura said the football players would ask him to lead them out into the gymnasium whenever they were having a pep rally.
“The football team were his buds,” she said. “Walter Coles told him to lead the pack.”
Word of Christopher’s passing is beginning to spread to his classmates, as Kemzura has already told several.
She knows life won’t be the same anymore.
“His classmates are heartbroken,” she said. “It’s going to be different without him.”
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced by Christopher’s family.