Andrew Bennardo, AKA chef Andy, is the jokey figure often found behind the counter at Talia's Tuscan Table, giving his regulars a hard time about their favorite sports team or the weather in NYC. That aspect of his persona drops away when he talks about his 16-year-old daughter, Talia, who's struggling with a serious kidney disease that will eventually require a kidney transplant.
"It's one of those intangible things," Bennardo said. "It's going to be a long road."
Talia, the namesake of Bennardo's Boca Raton restaurant, has Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a chronic disease that can lead to renal failure and other life-threatening complications. Talia's case is severe and has caused extensive kidney damage. In the last year, she's undergone dialysis, debilitating fatigue, and a host of unpleasant ailments and side effects.
The Bennardo family first learned of Talia's illness in April 2012, when she was taken to the doctor and then rushed to Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital where it was discovered "her kidneys weren't working." The family chose an aggressive treatment regime and Talia's current health status is stable enough that she can attend classes at her high school, though she has to do her nightly homework from bed.
Though doctors initially told the family that Talia's low kidney function was "irreversible" Bennardo said he "refused to accept that." They pursued alternative medicine and treatments to complement the doctors' course of treatment. Talia was put on a vegetarian diet, which eventually led to a vegan diet. Since then, Talia has "doubled the function of her kidneys" Bennardo said.
Bennardo, whose uncle owns the Juiceateria in Boca Raton, has incorporated juicing into his and his family's diets. He even teaches classes on juicing at the Juiceateria. He admits it may seem contradictory for someone who's made a living dealing in piles of pasta and huge deli sandwiches to speak out about health food, but he's striving to find a balance between his hearty Italian cooking and a healthy lifestyle for his family and customers.
"Hippocrates said, let food be thy healer," Bennardo said. "My energy level is up from juicing. I even bought a juicer for the kitchen at Talia's."
Speaking of Talia's, Bennardo said the restaurant's crowd has "rallied around him" during this difficult time for him and his family.
"It gives you hope," he said.
Those interested in doing some rallying of their own can check out the Fundly profile, created by Talia's cousin, which seeks donations to fund the teen's expected kidney transplant expenses.
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