D. None of the above

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

I am a terrible loser.

Daniel Dunaief

I blame John McEnroe, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Pete Rose, and a host of politicians who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, accept defeat.

All of those people hated to lose. McEnroe had temper tantrums that were so epic that he’s spoofed himself many times, complaining in movies that “you can’t be serious” when things don’t go his way.

Frustrated with the umpiring in a game, Martin would kick dirt on home plate or have an epic meltdown in front of over 50,000 people.

I don’t ever remember any of those tirades or temper tantrums when they or their teams were winning.

Being American means winning. To borrow from the cliche, it means giving 110%.

I can’t tolerate losing, just as CEOs, politicians, athletes and sports coaches and managers can’t stand it, either. Many people hate losing as much if not more than they enjoy winning.

The fans who pay to see their teams win, not just to see them play, boo mercilessly when stars like the New York Knicks Julius Randle don’t live up to their contracts and don’t lead the team to more victories than defeats.

Randle recently expressed his frustration in response to the fans’ disappointment by giving them the thumbs down in a game.

Unconditioned positive regard, however, doesn’t come with having your name in lights or being a star on a celebrated team.

We get that from family members, sometimes, and from psychologists or psychiatrists.

As Americans, we have expectations of ourselves that have been set, in some cases, by role models like athletes, politicians and other popular icons.

At the end of the year, sports networks don’t focus on the best concessions speeches and the most gracious losers.

They are much more likely to replay the greatest rants and epic press conferences when athletes or coaches completely lose their composure in response to a question. We watch in rapt fascination as these superstars have a tantrum or glumly express disappointment.

Being a sore loser is also good business. The media empires on the left and the right long ago figured that out. During the Trump administration, nothing the former president said or did was good enough. The outrage factor over his thoughts, actions, gaffes and verbal inadequacies were attacked mercilessly.

Fox, which spent the last four years laughing at the liberal crying machine, has now turned its attention to attacking President Joe Biden (D) in a similar fashion, mocking everything he says or does or doesn’t do. 

People in the sports world describe muscle memory. They train their bodies and minds to react to evolving situations instantly, so they know where to go, what to do, and how to advance their cause.

That preparation almost never includes lessons on what to do when you lose or are losing. No one plays to lose, and yet, every game has a loser.

Maybe this year, we should prepare ourselves better for the moment we lose. We don’t have to be miserable, stare out blankly at the field, the way baseball players always do after the last game of the World Series, wishing they could have been that team that’s dogpiling near the pitcher’s mound.

Maybe this year, when people are continuing to struggle with a third year of the pandemic, we can hope for a celebration of great competition from both teams. 

We can take comfort and feel joy in the recognition that we brought out the best in each other.

Even when we lose, we can, to borrow from Lou Gehrig, still feel like the “luckiest people on the face of the Earth” for having been a part of something we know is special, regardless of the outcome.

Pexels photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

He was a part of my wife’s family’s inner circle for years. He appeared at summer gatherings and at significant family events and celebrations.

With his white hair, his signature smile and a Polish accent that seemed as fresh in each conversation as it likely was the first time he arrived in the United States, Carl wandered in and out of conversations and rooms, often smiling and always listening.

He seemed as comfortable in his own skin as anyone I’d ever met, paying close attention to his wife, interacting with his children and grandchildren and soaking up life the way everyone around him soaked up the warm rays of the sun.

Carl watched one day almost 20 years ago when my daughter got too close to the pool’s edge, falling in before she could swim. I immediately jumped off the diving board and brought her back up, where, as I dried her off, she protested that it took too long for me to get her.

When my daughter felt comfortable and confident enough to walk away from me, Carl waited for me to make eye contact.

“That’s what you do when you’re a father,” he smiled.

I nodded and sighed while my blood pressure and pulse returned to normal.

Several times over the years, Carl and I sat next to each other, sharing buffet-style meals of chicken kebobs, pasta, and filets.

Carl didn’t have the numbers tattooed on his arm, but I knew some of the story of his life. I didn’t want to bother him or upset him with a discussion of what was a painful and difficult period.

Once, when we were alone inside a screened-in area, I raised the topic.

“Hey, Carl, I understand you survived the holocaust,” I said.

When he looked me in the eyes, he narrowed his lids slightly, processing what I said and, likely, trying to figure out whether he wanted to talk.

“It’s okay,” I said, immediately backing off. As a journalist, I have a tendency to ask questions. I recognize, however, the boundaries that exist during social interactions and with family and friends. I wanted to speak with him to hear about what had been an unspoken part of his life.

“Yes, I survived,” I said.

“How? Where?”

“In the woods,” he said. “I lived in the woods when the Nazis came.”

He described how he was so hungry that he ate leaves, bugs and bark. That, however, was far preferable to being caught by the Nazis, who had murdered the rest of his family. Carl had been a teenager when he escaped to the woods, avoiding Nazi guards who were always searching for people they deemed enemies and who they readily killed.

Surrounded by a collection of other people who might, at any given time, vanish forever, Carl survived for several years, emerging at the end of the war to try to restart a life shattered by violence and cruelty.

After a brief description of his experience, he told me how important he felt it was that people study the specifics of World War II and understand what really happened to him, his family and people in so many other countries. It angered him that people tried to ignore a history that took so much from him.

All those years later, Carl seemed so easy going and relaxed, so prepared to laugh and smile and to enjoy another bite of lunch or dinner.

Carl recently died. I’m sorry for the loss to his family. I’m glad to have known him and to have shared a few meals, a few smiles and a few stories. All those days, months and years of life, like initials carved into a tree, showed that he was, indeed, here and, having seen his family react and interact with him, that his life had meaning.

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Dogs need to go outside, regardless of the temperature. My dog, who has a thick coat of hair, loves the winter and is perfectly happy to linger outside, especially when it’s close to freezing. When the grass is covered with frost, he slowly lowers his right cheek and does a lawn dive, bringing the rest of his body piece by piece down onto the cold, wet surface.

Once he’s completely on the ground, he rolls onto his back, using the blades of grass and the water and ice to scratch his back, while snorting with delight. With the eye that isn’t pressed into the ground, he stares at me, waiting for me to give up the ghost on getting some exercise or coming back inside quickly. When I reach down to pet him, I can almost see him smirk as he wags his tail triumphantly.

This month, he and I have seen some unusual sights. When I see something unusual, I try to take out my phone, but my reaction time, and all the extra material in my pocket, makes that a largely ineffective effort.

Even when I do manage to take out the camera and point it in the general direction of something interesting, the pictures typically disappoint, because my dog who hates to move suddenly gets the urge to pull just as I’m snapping the photo, leaving me with a blurry image of the road.

A few days ago, we were at the top of our street at dusk, near one of my dog’s favorite places to poop. In fact, I can take him on a four-mile walk and, within a tenth of a mile of our home, he finds his favorite blades of grass, takes his usual tentative steps, turns away from me — he needs privacy — and does his business.

This time, though, just as he was approaching his familiar spot, a hawk passed by only a few feet from my head, giving me a chance to look him, and the object he was carrying, squarely in the eyes.

The hawk was holding a squirrel, which seemed especially odd to me given the relative size of the two animals. The squirrel wasn’t moving but was clearly alive. When I told my family about it, they were sympathetic to the squirrel.

A few days later, walking toward the other end of the block, my dog and I observed a blow-up Frosty on one end of a lawn and a blow-up Santa on the other rise slowly from the ground as air flowed slowly into them.

My dog, whose fear of unusual inanimate objects builds around Halloween and the December holidays, stood at attention and considered announcing his presence with authority to objects that can’t, and don’t, react to his deep bark.

Fortunately, he only pulled his lips back slightly and lifted his tail, allowing the neighbors to enjoy their dark, quiet evening without the sound of a panicked pooch on a poop walk.

A few minutes later, I studied the stars at a distance when a light appeared in the sky, flashed toward the horizon and disappeared. Never having seen a shooting star before, I was mesmerized.

When I returned and shared the story, my son, who doesn’t seem too keen on superstition but is clearly aware of pop culture, asked if I made a wish. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity for help from anywhere, I did. Maybe by next December, I’ll let you know if it came true!

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Before each game, the Stony Brook University women’s basketball team meditates.

The pre-game ritual, among other changes and additions first-year Coach Ashley Langford instituted, has worked, as the team has a 7-1 record and sits first in the America East division.

Meditating “calms us and helps us visualize what we want to see in a game,” said India Pagan, a starter for Stony Brook and a graduate student with an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID pandemic.

A standout guard for Tulane University who finished her college career first in assists, Langford appreciates how hard the team has worked and how well they’ve come together.

“Our chemistry has been really good early on, to the point where, sometimes, [I wonder] is it November or is it March?” she said.

With five players averaging double digits in scoring, Stony Brook becomes harder to guard.

“On any given night, we’re moving and sharing the ball,” Langford said. “They are selfless. They don’t care who has the most points.”

While earning a spot in March Madness this year for just the second time in the program’s history would be rewarding, Langford focuses on each game.

“I’m a person that stays in the moment,” Langford said. “As long as we’re getting better, that puts us in a position to win the next game.

To that end, Langford would like the team to continue to improve in its transition defense.

She would like to see the team, which includes starters Earlette Scott, Gigi Gonzalez, Leighah-Amori Wool, Anastasia Warren and Pagan, continue to collect more offensive rebounds.

Langford’s assistant coaches, which includes recruiting coordinator Shireyll Moore, have been searching for players who might join the program as student-athletes.

“We’re in the position we are today because we have pretty good players,” Langford said. “My staff does a lot of this. They are more actively involved in the recruiting” each day.

Stony Brook has signed three current high school seniors and is focusing on juniors.

Before each game, Langford’s assistant coaches watch film of their opponents. They give her a cheat sheet before she watches film as well.

While Langford plans to stick to the team’s strengths, she will add a few wrinkles depending on the insights she gains about her opponents.

In the team’s first loss, Pagan and Warren were unavailable to play for medical reasons.

The team could have gone to Fordham feeling defeated, but the players fought to the end in a game they lost, 71-59.

“They don’t like losing, we don’t like losing,” Langford said. “They have responded well this week.”

The start of a season as head coach has taught Langford several lessons, including pacing herself and, in particular, protecting her voice. She drinks tea all day long and tells her staff to remind her not to yell in practice, because she shouts over the band at games.

In practice, Langford grabs a ball periodically to demonstrate what she’d like to see from her players.

As for her activity during the game, Langford sits only for about the first 30 seconds and then works the sidelines.

Pagan appreciates the work Langford puts in and the way her new coach has improved her game. While she used to get three or four rebounds a game, she’s often snagging 10 or more.

Pagan also sees herself hustling more, particularly after Langford created a drill where the players dive for loose balls.

“Before, I wouldn’t think of diving for a ball. Now, it’s ingrained into my head,” Pagan said. “The hustle doesn’t stop until the whistle blows. You play until you can’t play any more.”

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

When she was little, my daughter loved to build sand castles. She’d put wet sand in a bucket, gently pull the bucket back and marvel at the details in the castles that came out.

My son wasn’t as interested in building castles. He derived special pleasure out of stomping on the castles she made. It wasn’t just that it gave him power over the sand: he also felt power over his older sister, who was furious with him for crushing her castles.

While I tried to reason with him, which is almost as effective today as it was when he was two, I came up with an alternative plan that required additional energy from me, but that created peace on the beach. I’d quickly put together a ring of 15 castles, grabbing wet sand and dumping it several feet from where my daughter was working on her creation.

Like a young Olympic sprinter, my son would race over to the collection of castles and stomp all over them, while my daughter slowly built her own city of sand.

These days, it seems, we are surrounded by people eager to stomp on everyone else’s sandcastles.

Sure, it’s satisfying to feel the figurative sand in our toes and to revel in tearing down what other people have created.

But, really, given all the challenges of the world, I think we should ask a few questions of all those people who are so eager to belittle, attack and undermine others. What’s your solution? What are you doing better? How would you fix the problem?

Insulting others for their efforts, their awkwardness or their perceived flaws often seems like a form of ladderism. No one wants to be on the bottom rung of a ladder, so people try to push others down or to shout to anyone who will listen about how much better they are than the people below them. That seems to be a sign of weakness or insecurity, reflecting the notion that other people are below them.

In addition to dumping on others, we live in a society of people for whom hearing views that differ from their own somehow turns them into victims. Surely we have more choices than simply, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” If someone doesn’t agree with you, maybe it’s worth finding out why.

Anger, frustration and hatred, while they may make us feel slightly better in the moment, aren’t solutions and they don’t improve our world. They are a form of destructive energy, like stomping on sand castles.

We should ask more of ourselves and from our leaders. I’m tired of hearing about politicians who will fight for me. I don’t want to send people into office to fight against others who are trying to do the best they can for the country. I want leaders who will learn, listen and, gasp, reach across the aisle in the search for solutions.

While platforms aren’t as sizzling as slogans or take downs, they include ideas and potential solutions.

Civility makes it possible for us to hear and learn.

We have enough threats to our lives without needing to turn against other people or to give in to the urge to crush other people’s sandcastles to feel better. We don’t all have to be best friends, but it’d be nice to look forward to a holiday season and the start of a new year that focused on a shared sense of purpose. We need better ideas, not better ways to attack.

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Ah, the benefits of an older bladder.

Granted, that’s not generally the case. Usually, I get up in the middle of the night, realizing that the dream that involves the search for a bathroom is my brain’s way of telling me that I need to urinate in real life.

I shift my weight slightly toward the floor, hoping that the rocking motion of my body doesn’t move the bed so much that I wake my wife or the cat sleeping on her, who sometimes sees my movement as a starter’s gun to race toward the table in the laundry room to devour another can of the same food he eats every day.

I slide my feet off the bed and try not to step on our huge dog, who moves around often enough that he could easily be that furry thing under my feet. My toes can’t always tell whether that’s him or just the softer part of the inside-out sweatpants I’ve been wearing for a week. I also try to avoid the other cat, whose tail is like a spring waiting for me to step on so he can shriek loudly enough to wake my wife and terrify the other cat and the dog.

When I reach the bathroom, I try to urinate into the bowl but away from the water to avoid any splashing sound. I retrace my steps back to the bed, hoping the safe places to step on the way out from the bed are still safe on the return.

This past week, the bathroom routine gave me the opportunity to look at a rare event. I watched the extended lunar eclipse, which was the longest it’s been in 580 years. I crept out to the hallway to view it through a window, hoping I didn’t have to go out in the cold to catch a glimpse of Earth’s shadow. I was also concerned that the dog, even at 3 a.m., would fear that he was missing out on something and bark, negating my efforts to enjoy the eclipse in silence.

I was amazed at the shadow that slipped slowly across the moon. I took an unimpressive photo that captured the yin and yang of the light and shadow.

The next morning, I ran into some neighbors on my routine walk with my dog.

After saying how they’d stayed up all night to watch this rare event — they are retired and don’t have any time pressure most days — they started to recount their evening.

“I was tempted to dress in black and howl while I watched it,” the man said.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“Well, you know, I figured as long as I was up, the neighbors on the other side who think it’s OK to play basketball at 11:30 p.m. should know I was awake and active.”

“Hmm,” I said.

“Yeah, and the other day, they had a party and threw beer bottles over the fence into our backyard. It took until late in the day for them to pick them up.”

“That’s terrible,” I said. “Sorry to hear that.”

As I walked back with my dog, who was eager for his post-walk breakfast, I realized we had never discussed the sights from the night before.

Sleep deprivation overshadowed a discussion of the observation of the Earth’s long shadow.

As for me, I was, for the first time, grateful for the momentary need to pee. The evening and the morning interaction that followed brought to the fore a collision of the mundane and the magnificent.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Flying? Are we really flying? Well, sure, why not, right? Everyone else is flying.

Wait, then again, everyone else seems to be flying. What if one of those other people is sick? Don’t think too much about it and breathe through your nose. Oh, you can’t because the two masks you’re wearing are pinching your nose? Well, tough! 

They’re serving drinks and cookies? People have to lower their masks to eat and drink, right? So, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of mandatory masks? Look away from everyone who’s breathing. Yeah, that’ll help.

Okay, finally, we’re on the ground. 

Hey, this is a nice campus. The sidewalks are packed and filled with so much energy, not all of which is positive.

“Why are all these $#@! parents here this weekend? I have several tests and I don’t need them all staring at me!”

That girl is sharing her academic anxiety with her friend and anyone else within 100 feet of her. Subtle, real subtle! Tempted as I am to let her know that parents, likely including her own, make this sometimes miserable experience possible, I refrain. She might be my son’s current or future friend.

I ask two students for the location of a building. The first shrugs and points me in the wrong direction and the second nearly draws a map. Okay, one for two.

I sit just in time for the start of a talk by successful alumni, who connect their careers to the lessons they learned at school. Clever marketing! Other parents chuckle at the jokes. I imagine these parents as college students. In my mind, the presenters onstage become Broadway performers. Each of the two men and two women, which I presume is a well-planned balance of genders, does his or her rendition of “how I succeeded,” with the subtext, just feet from the school president, of, “keep paying those tuitions!”

When the session ends, the phone rings. It’s my son! He’s strolling across a lawn. Wait, is that really him? Much as I want to run over and squeeze him, I play it cool, congratulating myself on my impulse control. Well done, Dan. You haven’t embarrassed him so far, but the weekend is young yet, even if you are not. He adjusts his hair, a move I’ve seen him and almost all his friends do frequently, even while running back and forth on a basketball court. What’s with all the hair adjustment? I quietly ask for permission to hug him. Yay! He agrees. I wrap my arms around his shoulders and fight the urge to pick him up, which is probably best for my back.

As we head to his dorm, he tells me he hasn’t done laundry in nine days. I don’t know whether that’s a hint, as in, “Dad, while you’re here…” or a statement of fact.

We part company and I learn about the evolving world of the commercialization of college athletes, who can use their name, image and likeness to make money. He’s listening to a psychology lecture about, who else, Sigmund Freud.

At a football game, I wonder how it can be this cold in Louisiana. Aren’t we in the deep south? We leave before it’s over, waiting in the cool air for 11 minutes for an expensive Uber — they must know it’s parents weekend — to take two families who are heading back to the same hotel.

10 pm. Who eats this late? I’m usually half way to sleep by now. My older brother is undoubtedly already in REM sleep. My stomach is going to hate this. Shut up stomach!

Looking around the table at these families, one thing is clear: these parents adore their children.

This is part of the story of how these boys got here and, hopefully, will help them continue to learn lessons, like how to dress for a cold football game and how to make reservations in advance before a busy parents weekend so we can eat earlier.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Have you ever watched someone who was cheering for their team at a sporting event?

Aside from the potential enormous and mindless consumption of calories in the form of hot dogs, chips and beverages, superfans scream at the players, tilt their heads when they want a ball to move in a particular direction, or beg a higher power to help their player outperform people on the other team whose fans are pleading for the opposite outcome.

As fans, we have little control over the result of a game, especially if we’re watching it on television. Sure, home field advantage likely helps some teams and players, as fans urging their favorites on, standing and shouting at the tops of their lungs could inspire athletes to raise their level of play.

But, really, all of that pleading, begging and cheering into the ether or at the blinking lights on our screens gives us the illusion of control, as if we have some way to influence games.

We generally don’t accept or give up control because we like to think that, somewhere, somehow, our wishes, goals and desires mean something to a deity, a guardian angel, or a fairy godmother. To be human is to hope to control the uncontrollable.

Give me the inspiration to pick the right lotto numbers, please! Let me ride the subway with my future spouse. Keep me from hitting the curb on my driver’s test!

Millions of Americans sit each night with a remote control in their hands, surfing channels, changing the volume and traveling, without getting up from the couch, from a program about ospreys to a fictional story about a female secretary of state who becomes an embattled president. We sometimes revel in the excitement that comes at the point that teeters between control and a lack of control. When we’re young, we ride a bike with both hands. At some point, we take one hand off the bike. Eventually, we learn to balance the bike with no hands, as we glide down the street with our hands on our hips or across our chest.

In our entertainment, we imagine people who have higher levels of control, like wizards with wands or superheroes who use the force to move objects.

When we become parents, we realize the unbelievable joy and fear that comes from trying to control/ help/ protect and direct the uncontrollable.

When our children are in their infancy, we might determine where they go and what they wear, but we generally can’t control the noises they make, even by finding and replacing their pacifiers. These noises are their way of preparing us for the limited control we have as they age.

They make numerous choices, some of which we feel might not be in their longer term best interest. We can see the bigger picture, which can be as simple as recognizing that taking eight classes while working part time at night and joining the marching band is likely creating an  unsustainable schedule. We know how important the basics — sleeping, eating, exercising — are to their lives, even if they make impulse driven choices.

One of the hardest parts of parenting may be knowing when to give them the space and opportunity to make decisions for themselves and to encourage them to learn from their choices.

Parents are lifetime fans of their children, supporting and encouraging them, leaning to the left to keep a ball in play, to the right to keep it out of a goal, or higher when we want their voices to hit the highest notes in their range during a performance of “West Side Story.”

It’s no wonder so many parents are exhausted and exhilarated after a big moment in their children’s lives: we might not have done anything but sit in a seat and clap our hands, but we tried, from a distance and in our own way, to control the uncontrollable.

Downtown Port Jefferson flooded during Superstorm Sandy. File photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Nine years ago, Superstorm Sandy came roaring through the area, causing flooding, knocking out power and disrupting work and school.

All these years later, New York is not prepared for other significant storms, despite studies suggesting that future, slow moving hurricanes with heavy rain could overwhelm infrastructure in and around Long Island.

“While we have dithered, New Orleans, Houston and other U.S. cities have gained federal support for regional protection strategies — which will be funded with our tax dollars,” according to an information packet created by the New York New Jersey Storm Surge Working Group. “We can’t waste another decade pursuing local responses to regional threats.”

In a ninth anniversary boat tour designed to address the challenges from a future Sandy or even a Hurricane Ida, the working group, which is chaired by School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook University Malcolm Bowman, outlined four messages.

First, the group suggested that coastal flooding presented a significant danger. Storm surge, sea level rise and storm water from extreme rain present an “existential threat” to the area.

Second, the group concluded that coastal flooding is a regional challenge that requires a regional solution. These scientists urge the two middle Atlantic states to consider creating a layered defense system, which they argue would be cost effective to protect property and the environment.

Third, and perhaps most damaging, the group concludes that the area is as vulnerable now as it was nine years ago in the days before Hurricane Sandy arrived. The group wrote that “no regional costal resilience plan” is in place to protect over 1,000 miles of the New York and New Jersey metropolitan coastline.

Fourth, the changing political climate presents an opportunity to do something. The group highlighted how a new governor of New York, the start of a new term or releected governor in New Jersey, a new mayor of New York City and the restarting of the $20 million New York and New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Focus Area Feasibility Study, or HATS, presents a “once in a lifetime opportunity to act now to address the existential threat of costal flooding with a regional coastline resilience system that meets our social justice, environmental justice, quality of life and economic development goals.”

Bowman urged New York and New Jersey residents to consider the progress other states and countries have made.

“Houston is going ahead,” Bowman said, even while New York hasn’t taken any significant steps.

Bowman said part of the challenge in creating any change that protects the area comes from the lack of any enduring focus on a vulnerability that isn’t evident to residents on a daily basis.

“People have short memories,” Bowman said. “It’s not on their minds” even if they endured the disruption and devastation from storms like Sandy and Ida.

Necessity and the lack of deep pockets in other countries is the mother of invention.

“A lot of countries can’t afford” to rebuild the way New York and New Jersey did after Hurricane Sandy,” Bowman said. “They are forced to be more careful.”

Bowman said any major project to protect the area needs a hero who can tackle the details, navigate through the politics and execute on viable ideas.

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan had “that kind of charisma,” Bowman said. “We need somebody who everybody sees as the hero. I don’t see that person” at this point.

For New York and New Jersey, the longer time passes without any protective measures, “the more the danger will increase,” Bowman cautioned.

From left, 8 1/2-year-old Dan Barsi, Jennifer Barsi, Maggie Barsi (age 4), James Barsi, and Lily Barsi (age 7)

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

If your children are under the age of 12 and the Food and Drug Administration soon approves a COVID-19 vaccine, you’ll have many people to thank for the opportunity to return them to a more normal, and safer, childhood, including four-year-old Maggie, seven-year-old Lily and eight-and-a-half-year-old Dan Barsi.

The three siblings, who live in East Setauket with their parents James and Jennifer Barsi, recently participated in a clinical trial for the COVID-19 vaccine at Stony Brook Hospital. While the children don’t know whether they received vaccinations for the virus or the placebo, they are three of numerous children who volunteered to test the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to make sure it was safe before health care providers administer it to the broader population.

Their children “knew what they were signing up for,” said Dr. James Barsi, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. “It’s something to help other people.”

Indeed, the community benefits from volunteers like the Barsis, who participate in clinical trials that evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment, help determine the correct doses, and reveal potential side effects before the rest of the population gets the COVID-19 vaccine or any other medicine or therapeutic intervention.

“We would never make advances in medicine without families — adults and children — volunteering to participate in clinical trials,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Some treatments for a range of illnesses or conditions look promising in the earlier stages of clinical development, such as phase 1 or phase 2. When they reach phase 3, during which researchers provide medicine to a much larger volunteer population, they sometimes fall short of expectations.

“Companies will tout drugs as the next best thing,” Dr. Nachman said. “When they get into phase 3, they are not better than standard therapy.”

Clinical trials on even an ineffective drug or one that produces side effects, however, can help pharmaceutical companies and health care providers by signaling what these professionals should look for in future treatments, Dr. Nachman added.

While volunteers of any age take risks by participating in these studies, they also have considerable medical oversight.

“They are well protected,” Dr. Nachman said. “When you participate in a clinical trial, you don’t just have two sets of eyes on you; you have 100 sets of eyes.”

Volunteers for clinical trials not only take some risk before everyone else in the community, but they also experience regular testing and monitoring.

The Barsi children, for example, had to have blood work and nose swabs. “We call it a brain swab,” Jennifer Barsi said. “The kids are so excited about getting a treat afterwards, but they still have to do the hard thing.”

Health care professionals throughout Long Island shared their appreciation for clinical trial volunteers. Without them “none of these innovative therapies and drugs would exist,” said Stephanie Solito, Research Manager of the Oncology Service Line at Catholic Health, which includes Smithtown-based St. Catherine of Siena and Port Jefferson-based St. Charles Hospital.

When Daniel Loen, Catholic Health’s Vice President of Oncology Services, takes any medicine, he appreciates that patients were “willing to sacrifice something or take on some kind of increased risk to get on a trial for the good of humanity and medicine.”

As for the specific COVID-19 pediatric trials, Dr. Nachman said parents and children have to approve to participate. Doctors talk with children in an age-appropriate way about these clinical trials.

Dan Barsi was born at 25 weeks old. He stayed in the hospital for several months and is now a healthy child.

Jennifer and James felt that this was their opportunity to give back to the next generation. The children who participated in clinical research before Dan was born helped make it possible for him to get the best treatment, and now they feel they’re doing the same thing.