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VALHALLA, NY-The construction of the $147-million Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital and Regional Trauma Center reached a milestone on Thursday as more than 1,000 people attended a topping off ceremony for the project on the grounds of the Westchester Medical Center here.

A host of state and local dignitaries was on hand for the event including New York Governor George Pataki and Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano.

The Oct. 3 date was especially poignant as it marked the seven-year anniversary of the death of Maria Fareri, who at the age of 13, was diagnosed with bat rabies an was cared for at the existing Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in 1995. In addition, the event culminated the 25th anniversary celebration of the Westchester Medical Center.

“Everyone here today, from the children in our schools to the construction workers on the project, has made a significant contribution in bringing the hospital to this moment,” said Edward Stolzenberg, president and chief executive officer of Westchester Medical Center. “I can think of no better way of celebrating Westchester Medical Center’s 25 years of providing advanced medical care to the most sick and seriously injured people in the Hudson Valley than by topping off the year with this milestone.”

Also on hand for the event were John and Brenda Fareri, parents of Maria Fareri, who helped spearhead the initiative to build the new children’s hospital.

“Our daughter Maria was a vibrant teenager when she was suddenly struck ill,” Brenda Fareri said. “Throughout her life, Maria’s wish was to help other children. It is fulfilling for us to see Maria’s wish becoming a reality.”

The Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital is scheduled to open in 2004 and will cost $147 million to build. The Children’s Foundation at Westchester Medical Center’s “Reach for the Stars” fundraising campaign has raised more than $25 million of its $27 million goal.

At the event, hospital officials reported that a Vietnam-era MedEvac helicopter been painted to replicate “STAT Flight,” the medical center’s MedEvac helicopter, was donated by the Federal Government Surplus Property Agency and will be on display at the children’s hospital. In addition, a refurbished fire truck cab was donated in memory of Paul Tegtmeier, a New York City firefighter from Hyde Park, NY, who died in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The truck will also be incorporated into the building when it is completed.

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