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1993-1996 // Nicholas Paul Audibert

The short, bittersweet life of Nicky is over.

Nicholas Paul Audibert, a 2-year-old boy who suffered devastating brain damage from a bout with meningitis, died Friday at Hospice House Woodside, where he had lived since August 1994. The cause of death was respiratory failure, his family said.

"We had (his twin sister) Sara down there to visit him (Friday) and I'll never forget her last words to him," said his father, Bruce Audibert, on Friday. "She reached down and touched him and said "Goodbye Nicky. You be a good angel.' "

"He was awake all day Thursday, even with all the morphine," said his mother, Rose Audibert. "And he had the most beautiful, angelic smile on his face the whole time."

Nicholas' medical struggles and the efforts of his Largo family to deal with his condition were chronicled in "The Gift of Nicholas," a story that appeared in the Times last Christmas Eve.

Nicholas and Sara were born premature but healthy in December 1993. Three weeks later, Nicholas suddenly became ill and was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. Doctors at All Childrens Hospital determined that the inflammation had spread through his brain, causing irreversible damage. They predicted he would not live long.

After several months of caring for their son at home, Nicholas' parents were overwhelmed by his needs. He had to be fed through a gastric tube. A shunt drained cerebrospinal fluid from his brain into his abdomen. He had frequent seizures.

The Audiberts decided to place their son in a Hospice group home for the terminally ill. He was the first infant in Florida to become a resident of such a facility.

Staff members, volunteers and other patients at Woodside quickly grew attached to the boy who could not see or speak but responded to familiar voices with a laugh.

"That will always be his room," said Mary Tracy, senior staff nurse at Woodside. "Every time I walk by there, there will be memories of him."

In an interview last summer, Audibert talked about the anguish of living with Nicholas' impending death.

"I had so many plans and dreams for him," he said. "And that's the hardest part that I have to deal with."

After the story about Nicky appeared in the Times, many people sent gifts and went to visit him.

In addition to his parents and sister, survivors include a stepsister, Dana Audibert of New Port Richey; paternal grandparents Paul and Avis Audibert of Largo; maternal grandparents, Mary Jones of Largo and Joe Piccolo of Pinellas Park; and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

Arrangements are being handled by Hubbell Funeral Home and Crematory, Belleair Bluffs. A memorial service is scheduled at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hospice House Woodside, 6770 102nd Ave. N, Pinellas Park.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in Nicholas' name be sent to The Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, 300 East Bay Drive, Largo, FL 34640.

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