Man honors young son's memory through his love of arts, theater

A Maryland man who suddenly lost his child is honoring his son's memory and the boy's love of the arts.

Audie Atienza started a nonprofit dedicated to his son Xavier who was 8-years-old when he died. The XA Project gives children suffering from life-threatening illnesses free tickets to the theater and other performances.

"He loved the arts," said Atienza. "He was a dancer, he loved to sing, he loved to perform. After he passed away, I wanted to do something to celebrate his life. To honor him."

Xavier was rushed to the hospital five years ago Sunday. Atienza said his son had been healthy. First came the fever and then the seizures and brain swelling. What caused it is unknown.

"Still to this day, they do not have an answer," Atienza said.

He said the anniversary of the day his life changed forever is still difficult, but on Sunday, he was all smiles as he headed to the Kennedy Center with the Kacinski family to see the musical Hamilton.

Meghan and Lliam Kacinski were both diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called DOCK-8. Without a bone marrow transplant, those with the disorder aren't expected to survive past their early 20's. Meghan got her transplant in June at Children's Inn at NIH.

"She has not been out all summer, all year," said her mother, Connie Kacinski. "She doesn't get out much and this is a really nice thing for her to be able to go out and do and enjoy."

Prior to the performance, Meghan and her mom went shopping, got their hair done and then the family went to dinner before getting in a limousine to the Kennedy Center, all thanks to The XA Project.

"His foundation providing us with this tonight, it's really special thing that he's doing," said Bill Kacinski. "Without his intervention, we would never be able to do something like this ourselves."

"I just think it's amazing how people can be so thoughtful," said Connie.

For Atienza, a day with such painful memories has turned into a way to carry on his son's legacy.

"(It) gives me a way to share with others what Xavier loved," he said.

The XA Project has given out about 800 tickets in four years.