Ronald McDonald House Charities Curaçao serves hundreds of children and family members each year. There are so many impactful stories that shaped the foundation and that remain with the team forever. The impression that 14-year old Justin Penso left behind, not only on the RMHC, but also on the whole community of Curaçao, is impossible to forget. On April 25, 2016, heaven gained an angel. Justin was a true soldier and an important pillar of the Ronald McDonald Curacao Foundation. The foundation in Curaçao, but also in Philadelphia keeps beautiful memories of this charismatic, positive and intelligent teenager. His huge heart, his impressive way of enjoying life and his eagerness to help, regardless of his condition, has touched so many lives in so many ways. Five years have passed since he departed this life, but not a day goes by that we do not miss him.
Justin was born in Curaçao on September 12, 2001. When he was only 6 years old, his life turned upside down. After so many tests family Penso needed to depart to the Netherlands for further examinations. A stomach flu turned out to be Neuroblastoma which is a type of cancer that forms in certain types of nerve tissue. It most frequently starts from one of the adrenal glands but can also develop in the neck, chest, abdomen, or spine.
“We went to the University Medical Center Groningen to start Justin’s treatment plan. It was a hectic period. Our daughter was only 4 years old at that time and luckily enough my parents lived in the Netherlands so there were days that they could take care of her. During this trip we had the first contact with the Ronald McDonald House. The treatment was amazing and we felt so relieved”, says Justin’s mother Gera Penso. Family Penso stayed for approximately one year in Groningen, because Justin had to receive different treatments, surgeries and also radiations.
Justin finished his treatment plan and had to undergo check up sessions every year. It was in 2013 when pain started to take over his body again. This time, family Penso went to Philadelphia because his case was distinctive and too complicated. “The moment we left to Philadelphia, I can still remember, I was totally disoriented. Justin was in so much pain and we were only trying to get to the hospital as soon as possible. After examinations, it turned he had two more malignant tumors.”
Regardless of his sickness, Justin never wanted to quit school and always loved to study. Besides all the traveling, the examinations and the constant pain he had been facing, he was always dedicated to his homework. He was also a dedicated volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House Charities Curaçao. He loved giving back to others and regardless the pain, he organized several events to sell items in benefit of the foundation. Ronald McDonald House became part of his family. His contagious personality, his positivity and his charisma definitely made his story go viral. His schoolmates were very supportive and they also became very involved in the Ronald McDonald foundation.
During these years, family Penso had to travel back and forth. In Philadelphia Justin also left his mark on the Ronald McDonald foundation. He was always able to help and they even called him ‘the mayor of the House’. He received so much love and support.
In 2014, when the family came back to Curaçao from their last trip to Philadelphia, Justin’s health condition had worsened. He had to be hospitalized immediately and there was nothing more the doctors could do for him. The whole island was praying for him and his family members. On April 25, 2016, Justin Penso passed away, but sure left behind a legacy.
Five years have passed, and he is missed every single day. In the Ronald McDonald family room program in Curacao, there is a beautiful artwork of Justin made by Michelle Russel- Capriles. His presence is still felt there every single day and the impact he has made on the island is something we will never forget. We don’t cry because it is over, we smile because it happened.
Thank you, Justin. Your legacy will live on forever.