On the days that Francis Mangino works at Italian Village Pizza in Monongahela, patrons who walk into the pizza shop are treated to more than a good slice of pie.
Mangino doles out warm greetings, friendly conversation and, occasionally, hugs.
“My goal in life is to make everyone around me smile,” said Mangino, a playful grin spreading across his boyishly handsome face. “I want to make them smile, chuckle or laugh.”
That Mangino, 23, is able to hold a job and to greet customers is remarkable.
Mangino’s life changed abruptly on July 15, 2011, when he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in Nottingham Township. Mangino, who had passed his driver’s test the week before, lost control of his car on a bend on Ginger Hill Road and struck a guardrail before a truck slammed into the car.
Mangino, then 16, was flown by helicopter to Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh. Doctors told his parents, Dick and Cathy Mangino of Finleyville, their son’s injuries were so severe that he likely would spend his life institutionalized.
He spent 46 days in a coma and battled numerous setbacks.
But Mangino, who was a member of the Ringgold track and field team and an avid outdoorsman – and extremely competitive, Cathy said – defied expectations.
After receiving acute care at AGH, he was transferred to the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, where he underwent six months of grueling rehabilitation.
After his release from the Children’s Institute in February 2012, Mangino returned home, and continued to receive physical and occupational therapy as he worked to relearn tasks – eating, getting dressed, walking, talking.
“He had to relearn how to do everything,” said Cathy. “The Children’s Institute was amazing with him. They did a lot of out-of-the-box thinking with him.”
Mangino’s determination, and a dedicated support system led by Cathy, paid off. He graduated from the Children’s Institute’s Day School and Ringgold High School, medaled in the Special Olympics, and participated in the institute’s Miracle League baseball team. He still enjoys outdoor activities, including hunting and fishing, and sports, especially the Pittsburgh Penguins. His sister, Julietta Mangino, who studied to become a brain injury specialist after Mangino’s accident, takes him on outings once a week.
For his dedication and inspiration to others, he was nominated for an ExtraORdinary People award.
Mangino acknowledges how far he’s come, and he’s grateful for those who have helped him.
“(The Children’s Institute) was more than helpful; they made me feel that I could do something,” said Mangino. “They helped me to recover to be the man that I am right now. (Stefano’s) been a blessing in more ways than anyone can ever think. He gave me the job. And I’ve got the best mom you’re going to get. She’s been there.”
Seven years after the car accident, Mangino is adjusting to the “new normal” of life after a TBI.
That includes his part-time job at Italian Village.
Owner Stefano Nowo hired Mangino in 2014.
Nowo said Mangino’s uncle, Lou Mangino, whose wife is a member of the Monongahela Rotary Club with Nowo, mentioned that the young man was looking for a job.
Nowo called Cathy, and a few days later, she and Mangino dropped by the pizza shop for an interview.
“I hired him on the spot,” said Nowo. “We hit it off pretty quick.”
Mangino works two days a week assembling pizza boxes (one of the first things customers notice when they enter the store is cardboard pizza boxes stacked high throughout the store), cleaning tables, sweeping the floor and stocking the beverage cooler.
Initially, Mangino was shy, Nowo said. But after a few weeks, he began interacting with customers.
“Customers started coming in and asking for him personally. I’d say he’ll be in tomorrow and they’d come back and talk to him,” said Nowo. “I think he has the most fun out of everybody. Customers like to see him, but he loves the customers.”
Among those regular customers is Dorothea Pemberton.
“I am so honored to know Francis. Each and every time I walk into Italian Village Pizza, he is standing there working on folding pizza boxes. He always has a smile on his face and tells me he is so happy to see me and that I look pretty today. I always tell him he’s a ladies’ man,” said Pemberton. “We talk about his love for vacations and the injuries he sustained. After speaking with Francis, my problems and everyday struggles seem to fade away. Francis is my hero.”
Working at Italian Village has provided Mangino with a purpose.
“I’m very proud that I can come here to work and that I can have a job,” said Mangino. “They said I was going to be a vegetable in a bed.”
For Cathy, who wants Francis to lead as normal a life as possible, working provides him with independence and an opportunity to earn money.
“Right after the accident, (doctors) told us Francis would never be able to do anything. So for him to have a job and to come here and be independent, that’s huge for a young man to be able to do that. And to see him progress like that is just wonderful,” said Cathy. “Medically, doctors can predict the outcome of how things are going to be, and you can either sit back and accept that or you can work to change it on your own.”
Working, Cathy said, is good therapy for Mangino, whose brain injury left him with permanent impairments, including short-term memory loss, seizures and some physical limitations.
Mangino has accepted that his life today is different than the one he had before the accident.
“This journey has been an opening-up the door to everything that I can do. Not all of the things that I wanted to do, but what I can do, and it’s because of the blessing of my best buddy (God) that I can do anything – that I can walk, that I can breathe – because that all stopped momentarily,” said Mangino. “But I am back now. Life is a blessing.”
Cathy said her son’s accident made her realize “how many good people there are in the world.”
“When you have such a horrible thing happen in your family, it does one of two things: It either brings your family together or it tears it apart. We were a very close-knit family anyway, but then you also find a lot of people in the community that are very supportive, so that’s been wonderful for us,” said Cathy. “And Stefano was one of those. He offered this position for him, and he’s been great.”
Nowo said he enjoys being at the pizza shop on the days Mangino works.
“I like to see him,” said Nowo. “He’s kind of a fixture here. It’s worked out good. As far as I’m concerned, he can work here as long as he wants. I hope he doesn’t leave anytime soon.”
Mangino doesn’t plan to.
“I have a lot of friends here,” he said. I do a great job. I really like it.”
As part of the ExtraORdinary People award, Francis Mangino will be given $500, underwritten by the Observer-Reporter and Range Resources, to donate to the charity of his choice. Mangino has chosen the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh.