When Lloyd Supervisor Paul Hansut heard of yet another child in town who has been diagnosed with leukemia, he said enough is enough. He said it is alarming when six cases of leukemia have been diagnosed locally in the past year.“I am going to send an official request to the county, state and federal health departments asking them to initiate an investigation into these cases to see if there is a common denominator that might be causing these cancers,” he said, believing the number of recently diagnosed cases is high for a town with a population of 12,000.
“It is very concerning to me and I know it is concerning to the residents of the town, so we are going to ask for an investigation,” he said. “My hope is that they will come to interview the families and get some background information … and see what’s causing this.”
On Saturday, Hansut attended a car- wash fundraiser at Troy’s Auto for leukemia-stricken Cameron Ruger, who is just 4 years old.
“Coming to these things is heartbreaking where you see what these families go through,” he said. “It’s not just one or two families, it’s five or six that I am aware of; I’m sure there are many more.”
Hansut is hoping the county cooperates with Lloyd in looking into this matter. He said he has already spoken with Ulster County Legislator Jeannette Provenzano [D-Kingston], who is deputy chairwoman of the Ulster County Health and Personnel Committee.
“I explained what I was going to do and she was all for it,” he said.
In addition, Hansut has reached out to Majority Leader Kenneth Ronk [R-Shawangunk] who said he is also in support of an investigation. Hansut said he will ask to make a presentation to the full county Legislature soon and will also inform Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, NYS Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk [D-46th] and NYS Assemblyman Frank Skartados [D-104th] “to get them on board” on the particulars of these cases in Lloyd.
“I am trying to bring an awareness of what’s going on,” he said. “It’s very alarming and very concerning to me that this is going on around here. I’d like to know why.”
Troy Tortarella said he decided to host the fundraiser because he knows the family. He said it is important to help when you can. “Whatever I can do to help is good.”
Cameron’s mother, Stephanie Passante-Lucas, said she was touched by the car-wash fundraiser and the support for her son.
“The community really came together. All the donations from the local businesses are amazing,” she said. “People were here at 8 a.m. ready to work.”
Young Cameron was diagnosed on March 29, 2013 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia [ALL], a cancer where white blood cells are overproduced and crowd out normal blood cells in the bone marrow. It is most common in children ages 2 to 5 and can also present itself in old age. Cameron is currently being treated at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.
“He goes for chemotherapy and the treatment is three years and two months long,” Passante-Lucas said, adding that her son’s medical prognosis is good. “We’ve come a long way in the past 30 years with leukemia.” She said her son is at the right age to beat this disease and has “the best of the worst case scenario.”
Stepfather Billy Lucas said the medical center is providing Cameron with excellent treatment.
“I can’t say enough about the pediatric oncologists in Westchester,” he said. “The doctors are amazing.” He encouraged people to make donations to the center if they are so inclined. “It’s the most amazing hospital I’ve ever seen.”
Friend and supporter Gerard Lyons said the fundraiser draws attention to the rising number of leukemia cases in town and reinforces a sense of community.
“This helps others when they are down and need the support of the community,” he said. “It’s a great way to get together and make sure we take care of each other.”
Stacy Malheiro, whose 8-year-old daughter Alexandra is also undergoing treatment for leukemia, was on hand to lend her support to the family. Alexandra has also been treated in Westchester. Stacy said she is “sad but happy at the same time to see all of these people coming out to support another little boy who is diagnosed with leukemia.”
“We’re all friends in this town and when you hear of somebody else that you know whose child is going through the same thing, what do you do? You support them,” she said. “There is a lot of family support and I am always there for her.”
Malheiro said she supports the supervisor’s call for an investigation in light of the six recent cases.
“For such a small town, that’s a lot; too much if you ask me,” she said. “I don’t know why [but] it’s environmental; it’s something in the Hudson Valley.”
She said when she goes to the hospital in Westchester for her daughter’s treatment she said the majority of the patients there are from this area in the Hudson Valley.
Malheiro said “something has to be done because its makes people not want to raise their families here. It’s scary to them.”
Malheiro said as adults we think the worst “but they’re kids. They just want to play, be happy, eat hot dogs and squirt people with water guns.”
By MARK REYNOLDS