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Cancer

Setauket residents continue a Renaissance Technologies tradition

Stony Brook Cancer Center. File photo

Generosity, particularly towards Stony Brook University, runs in the family at Renaissance Technologies.

Lalit Bahl, a veteran of the hedge fund, and his wife Kavita, who are Setauket residents, recently agreed to donate $10 million to a new translational research program that will complement Stony Brook’s effort to understand and conquer cancer. The financial gift, which will support a metabolomics and imaging center that will provide individualized cancer care, comes two years after the Bahls donated $3.5 million to a similar effort.

Bahl said he was following a long-established tradition.

“Many of my colleagues at Renaissance have donated significant amounts to Stony Brook and in particular the medical side over the years,” Bahl said. “I’ve heard from some of them about some of the projects that they have been involved in. I’m sure that played some part in my decision to make this donation.”

Another compelling factor in that decision, Bahl said, was the prevalence of cancer in his family.

Jim Simons, former chairman of the Mathematics Department at Stony Brook, founded Renaissance Technologies, bringing in a range of expertise to understand and predict movements in the stock market. Simons and his wife Marilyn have made significant contributions to Stony Brook that have helped bring in talented staff.

Indeed, in 2012 the school recruited distinguished scientists Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Cancer Center and Lina Obeid, the dean for research and professor of medicine. Hannun and Obeid, with the support of other senior faculty in the Cancer Center, will help oversee the creation of an advanced metabolomics and imaging center in the new Medical and Research Translation building when it opens in 2018.

Lalit and Kavita Bahl pledge $10 million to new cancer research program. Photo from Stony Brook University
Lalit and Kavita Bahl pledge $10 million to new cancer research program. Photo from Stony Brook University

“We have high-powered, brilliant investigations in cancer medicine,” Hannun said. “This creates the capability that will allow them to take their work to the next level, in developing new therapeutics as well as in imaging studies.”

The new facilities include a cyclotron, which is used to create novel tracer molecules for PET scanning, hot labs that produce radioactive tracers for the cyclotron, two PET scanners and research labs.

Imaging will enable doctors to monitor patients, in some cases without excising a tissue sample or performing surgery.

The imaging will “distinguish between a tumor [that] is necrotic and dying [and one] that’s metabolically active,” said Obeid. That will help track and monitor the patient’s response to various medicines and chemotherapy in a noninvasive way.

Metabolomics is the study of the small molecules or metabolites that help cells function. Some of those metabolites provide energy while others could act as signaling molecules, and still others could be involved in other structural or functional effects.

In addition to new equipment, Stony Brook will add new scientists to its fight against cancer. During the first phase, the school will recruit an oncological imaging researcher, a matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization researcher and a magnetic resonance spectroscopy researcher. In the second phase, Stony Brook will hire a new scientist in experimental therapeutics.

Ken Kaushansky, the dean of the School of Medicine, appreciates the progress the school is making in cancer research and is energized by the combination of philanthropic gifts and investments from the university.

“There’s something remarkably catalytic about a brand new building,” Kaushansky said. He said he’s had regular discussions with people who want an opportunity to work in the new facility.

While the broader goal is, and continues to be, to make important discoveries that will help in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, Kaushansky reiterated the school’s desire to earn a National Cancer Institute designation. This designation, which has been given to 69 institutions throughout the United States, raises its visibility and increases the opportunities to become part of research initiatives, while it also improves the chances that an individual scientist will obtain research funding from the National Cancer Institute, according to that organization’s web site.

“We have far surpassed the threshold of cancer research needed to acquire an NCI designation,” Kaushanksy said, which he attributes to Hannun’s efforts. Stony Brook is “now focusing on building up our clinical research prowess. That’s the second major component. I like our chances.”

The next area Stony Brook hopes to build is cardiovascular imaging, Kaushansky said.

“We have some remarkable cardiovascular surgeons and some terrific cardiovascular biologists,” Kaushansky said. “We need some outstanding cardiovascular imagers to work with [them]. We can use the incredible tools that we are building to do to cardiovascular medicine what we are doing to cancer.”

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MAIA Salon Spa and Wellness staffers cut the ribbon to launch Mondays at MAIA in Smithtown, a program to benefit cancer patients. Photo from Facebook

By Joseph Wolkin

One Smithtown spa and salon is going above and beyond to make sure cancer patients beat the Monday blues.

Mondays at Racine, a cancer care program created in 2003 by Racine Spa and Salon owner Rachel DeMolfetto and co-founder Cynthia Sansone has begun a new journey in conjunction with MAIA Salon Spa and Wellness in Smithtown.

Designed to give free salon care to cancer patients, Mondays at Racine’s services vary based on what the salon usually offers. In the case of MAIA — a full service salon and spa — they said they will do anything from shaving someone’s head to manicures and pedicures, along with yoga and reiki, a technique used to help the natural healing process in the patient’s body and restore physical and emotional well-being.

Karla Waldron, executive director for Mondays at Racine, said the salon reached out to them about being a part of the program.

“This woman that owns this salon is very well-known on Long Island, and she expressed interest in taking on the program,”, Waldron said. “Once that happened, we went into action to develop her program.”

The spa, owned by Agata Gajewski-Sathi, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the new cancer care program on June 6, with approximately 50 people in attendance.

“The staff and I at MAIA Salon Spa and Wellness are honored to participate in the Mondays at Racine program,” Gajewski-Sathi said at the opening. “We look forward to making a positive difference in the lives of people going through a very challenging time. As a strong believer in the mind-body connection and an advocate of integrative and holistic healing modalities, I strongly believe that incorporating these alternative options will have many beneficial effects on the day-to-day quality of life of our clients who are fighting cancer.”

In addition to debuting the new program, the spa held a special screening of Mondays at Racine, an Academy Award nominated documentary created by HBO. The 2010 short film showcased how two sisters enabled women diagnosed with cancer to receive treatment at their spa every third Monday of the month.

“It follows some cancer patients around through their chemotherapy,” Waldron said. “It goes through their home life, their relationship with their husbands. The backdrop is our program. You can see them receiving the different services and it’s quite moving.”

The film was released in 2012, and after that, the group’s popularity increased dramatically.

The original Mondays at Racine started in Islip at Racine Spa and Salon, and now there are charter locations in Port Jefferson, Greenvale, and beyond.

Waldron said the mission of Mondays at Racine is to show support for community members who are struggling with cancer.

“We needed to do something for the people in our community that were dealing with the devastating side effects of cancers,” Waldron explained. “We were seeing more and more of them. They were our patrons and friends. We decided that as a part of giving back, let’s open up our doors and give complimentary services. We wanted to just treat them to something nice.”

Participants from a previous Relay For Life at the high school take a lap. Photo from Alyssa Patrone

The fight to raise money and awareness for cancer research reaches far and wide, and on June 4, Northport High School’s track and football field will host nearly 900 people dedicated to doing their part to eradicate the disease.

Northport High School has held Relay for Life events since 2009, making the one this year its eighth annual. The popular American Cancer Society fundraiser starts with teams raising money from local businesses and individuals to be donated for the cause. During the event, which can last up to 24 hours, at least one participant from each team circles a track, usually at schools or parks, at all times as a reminder that cancer never sleeps. Campsites are set up for each team and laps during the relay are dedicated to various survivors and those who died of the illness.

Alyssa Patrone, the American Cancer Society representative overseeing Northport’s event, said Northport participants have raised more than $121,000 so far this year, bringing the total raised in eight years to about $1.3 million.

“There are so many incredible events that happen in our community, but Relay For Life really gives the Northport-East Northport community a place to gather and rally behind those who have been affected by cancer,” Patrone, a Northport resident herself, said in an email. “The volunteers that work to put the event together make sure that the Northport-East Northport community knows that if you’ve ever been touched by cancer in any way, we are here for you. At the event there really is a feeling of hope in the air that’s almost tangible. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s something truly special.”

Currently Deborah Kelly is listed as the top fundraiser on Northport’s page on the Relay for Life website, with more than $6,000 for her team “Steps for Christine.” Kelly’s page on the website says she is participating in the relay for “my sister and all the people who are battling this terrible disease.”

Ashleigh Basel of “Team Rainbow” has raised more than $4,000 for the cause. She also explained why she’s participating in the event on her Relay for Life page.

“I know there are a lot of worthy causes to support, but I think participating in an event that helps save lives from cancer is about as worthy as it gets,” she wrote.

The American Cancer Society has invested more than $4.3 billion in cancer research since 1964, according to its website. The organization estimates that in 2016 more than 1.6 million new cancer diagnosis will occur, and nearly 600,000 people will die.

For more information about Relay for Life or to make a donation, visit www.relayforlife.org.

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By Bob Savage

Locals shaved their heads for a good cause on Saturday at Schafer’s restaurant in Port Jefferson, raising money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and research into childhood cancers.

Among those going bald were TBR News Media’s own Michael Tessler, who said goodbye to his curly locks.

Commack School District teachers, administrators, students and community members gathered at the high school on Friday to shave their heads in the name of childhood cancer research.

About 175 people “braved the shave” to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. This is the seventh year that the district has hosted the event, which is organized by Commack High School teachers Lee Tunick and Bill Scaduto. Tunick said that the district eclipsed $500,000 raised since they began the annual event seven years ago, with more than $66,000 and counting coming in 2016. More than 700 people have had their heads shaved at Commack since they began.

“The community feel is terrific,” Tunick said. “The community just gets behind this like you wouldn’t believe.”

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) was in attendance to take part in the festivities as well.

“In comparison to what children are going through with cancer, it’s nothing,” Edwards said about the bravery required to have her head shaved in front of a gymnasium full of people. “It’s breathtaking. It’s easy to write a check. We do that all the time. Not enough people do that probably, but when you’re doing something like this, you’re going for it. You believe in it. You’re passionate about it,” she added.

Commack High School senior Chris Walsh had his head shaved in St. Baldrick’s name for the tenth year Friday. He has personally raised over $20,000.

Scaduto came to the event with a thick mane of brown hair but left with far less.

“We have a lot of quality teachers here who really volunteer their time to make this happen,” Scaduto said. “Administration, kids, everyone gets involved and it’s just amazing.”

Sports memorabilia items were donated to be bid on by Triple Crown Sports Memorabilia in Hauppauge, as another fundraising source.

For more information about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s cause, or to donate, visit www.stbaldricks.org.

More than 100 people filed into the Centereach Fire Department on Washington Avenue to lose their locks and raise money for the Centereach Civic Association’s third annual St. Baldrick’s fundraiser on Friday.

Residents could shave their heads, volunteer, or simply donate money, at the four-hour fundraiser. Attendees also had the chance to enter various raffles and get a free dinner before heading home.

The civic hoped to raise $50,000 this year. Thus far it has raised more than $8,000 toward that goal, according to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, though it was unclear if that amount included what was raised on Friday. All proceeds go toward the foundation, which focuses on curing childhood cancers.

According to event disc jockey Rob Wilson, three businessmen established the foundation to help give back to those in need. Their success with the fundraiser inspired them to create the 17-year-old foundation and sparked an annual head-shaving tradition.

According to Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, harmful chemicals are also found in telephone poles. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After four decades the government is finally updating the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 with partial thanks to Brookhaven Town officials.

President Gerald Ford signed the act decades ago to regulate the introduction of new chemicals into society, excluding those found in food, pesticides, tobacco, firearms, drugs and cosmetics. The act gave the United States Environmental Protection Agency the authority to require documentation of chemical substances to determine if the chemical is hazardous to humans. The 62,000 chemicals that existed before 1976 were grandfathered into the act and deemed safe for humans and the act wasn’t updated until last year.

The government amended the act with Toxic Substances Control Modernization Act of 2015. Its bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act updates the act and requires the EPA to establish a risk-based screening process for new chemicals. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and his fellow town board officials proposed the bill, which states the EPA must determine if a certain amount of old or new chemicals are safe for humans by a certain deadline. The EPA will reprimand manufacturers who don’t comply with safety requirements by restricting or prohibiting the creation, processing, distribution and disposal of new chemicals.

The EPA did not return requests seeking comment by press time.

According to Romaine, the uptick in cancer cases, particularly breast cancer on the North Shore, over the years was troubling. With advancements in science and technology scientists have found that some of the chemicals previously deemed as safe actually pose potential health risks for humans. This includes development of cancers and endocrine and immune system-related complications among other issues.

“We have a concern about the high rates of cancer in children and we’re concerned because people are trying to get answers,” Romaine said.

There were around 142.7 cases of cancer in Suffolk County between 2000 and 2004 according to the National Cancer Institute. The cases increased to around 528 per 100,000 people between 2008 and 2012 according to the cancer institute’s State Cancer Profiles.

County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who has focused on the environment and its health effects for more than a decade, said these chemicals could be particularly harmful to children and their health.

“When you’re exposed to something when you’re growing up … it stays in your body,” Anker said. “As you get older something may set off the cancer…It takes decades sometimes for cancer to evolve.”

In a 2008-2009 study from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, scientists found 300 pollutants in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies. According to the study, children are more vulnerable to chemical pollutants in the environment because of their size and poorer immune systems.

According to Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) these chemicals are found in everyday products like soaps and toothpastes among other items used on a daily basis. There are around 85,000 chemicals that are currently in use. But Zeldin said “the flaws in TSCA have left many of these new chemicals untested and unregulated.”

While Zeldin said the government should update important bills like TSCA, it’s common for some acts to go untouched for several years while others are updated almost annually.

“There are certainly examples of both extremes,” Zeldin said. “TSCA happens to be an example of one of those bills that really should have been updated many years ago, if not decades ago.”

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Event raises money for cancer patients

Michele Pincus, a breast cancer survivor, walks in the show. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Pink Aid Long Island hosted its second annual fashion show and luncheon to benefit victims of breast cancer at Mitchells|Marshs in Huntington on Thursday, Oct. 15.

Pink Aid is a nonprofit organization, with branches in Connecticut and Long Island and seeks to support breast cancer survivors and provide screenings to women in   financial need.

Pink Aid’s grant programs provide services like free breast cancer screenings and help cover nonmedical expenses such as wigs, recovery garments and transportation for patients undergoing treatment.

The event featured a fashion show with models wearing Mitchells fall 2015 and spring 2016 lines. There were also silent and live auctions, where items ranging from a Gucci iPad case to a two-night stay at an inn in Ireland were prizes.

Allison Mitchell, president of Pink Aid Long Island, said she was proud of how this event has grown in just one year. Last year, the event raised more than $225,000 from its 300 attendees.

She said while they can only fit a certain number of people in the store for the event, they also had the option of an online auction this year for those who didn’t have a chance to reserve a ticket.

“Pink Aid helps women that are underinsured or not insured to get through their treatment and their diagnosis,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s really important we’re giving back to women here on Long Island right in our backyard [who] are struggling with treatment and keeping their families together.”

Mitchell’s husband Chris heads the Huntington store, previously known as Marshs, which is part of an independent family chain. “We own a retail store [here] with a lot of amazing clothes,” he said. “Women love clothes and this event allows us to have women come and support other women while having a fun day that is really a celebration.”

During the Celebration of Life portion of the fashion show, breast cancer survivors walk the runway in Mitchells after the professional models. The survivors are accompanied by an escort, specifically someone who supported them during their journey, according to Diana Mitchnick, co-chair of the Celebration of Life fashion show.

“I am going to walk this year,” she said. “I am very excited and a little nervous.”

Mitchnick said the entire event is uplifting, and that the room is filled with love and support: “Everyone who has been through the breast cancer journey knows how much help you need. Many people don’t have it and they need it.”

This year’s guest speaker was Marisa Acocella Marchetto, a breast cancer survivor and award-winning cartoonist and graphic novelist. Her graphic novel, “Cancer Vixen: A True Story,” follows her journey from when she discovered she had breast cancer through to the end of her treatment.

“What a positive impact you’ve made creating real positive change,” Marchetto said to the room. “You’ve made Strong Island ever stronger.”

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The Village of Port Jefferson will be awash in pink all through October as part of John T. Mather Memorial Hospital’s breast cancer awareness and outreach called “Paint Port Pink.”

The event’s mission is to stress the importance of screening, early detection and education about breast cancer and to help raise funds for the Fortunato Breast Health Center Fund for the Uninsured at Mather. “Paint Port Pink allows Mather Hospital to build on our breast cancer outreach efforts by involving the entire community in a month-long campaign that is highly visible and offers important breast health information,” said Mather board member Judith Fortunato. Participating partners will distribute breast cancer education cards containing information on breast self-exams.

Paint Port Pink is presented by Astoria Bank with the support of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates, Long Island Physician Associates, LI Anesthesia Physicians, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, People’s United Bank, Suffolk Plastic Surgeons, The Richard and Mary Morrison Foundation, A World of Pink, Empire National Bank, Gordon L. Seaman and Harborview Medical Services.

Many activities will be held throughout the month to bring the community together. To kick off the event, a Tree Lighting Ceremony will be held at Village Hall tonight (Oct. 1) at 6:30 p.m. Mayor Margot Garant and Mather board member Judith Fortunato will flip the switch to light up the Village Hall tree in pink lights. All are invited. Local schools will provide music, and a flock of pink flamingos will make an appearance.

At the same time, merchants will be displaying pink lights in their windows. The water in the downtown fountains will be “pinked” with environmentally safe dye. Village Hall, the Village Center, the Port Jefferson Ferry Terminal and Mather  Hospital will be illuminated by pink spotlights. Theatre Three’s marquee will blink with pink lights. In addition, pink banners will adorn the light poles and some restaurants will offer special pink drinks.

Through Oct. 31, several events will raise funds to benefit the Fund for the Uninsured at the Fortunato Breast Health Center as well as breast cancer treatment services at Mather. Students at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School will launch their “Your Change Can Make a Change” promotion, collecting change using the Center’s giant hourglass while Port Jefferson Middle School students will sell and wear pink shoe laces and Frisbees.

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School cheerleaders and the Student Organization will begin their “Flamingo Flocking” fundraising campaign. The pink plastic suburban icons will be placed on the lawns of friends and supporters along with a note explaining that friends or family paid to have them “flocked” and explaining that if they make a donation, the flock will migrate to any yard they choose.

The 9th annual Pink Rock Golf Classic at the Port Jefferson Country Club will be held on Oct. 5. Registration is at 11 a.m. followed by a barbecue lunch at 11:30 am and a shot gun start at 1 p.m.

Mather Hospital’s 50th annual Gala, One Enchanted Evening, will be held on Oct. 23 at the Hyatt Regency Long Island, Hauppauge, from 7 to 11 p.m. The gala will include the presentation of the Community Service Award and Theodore Roosevelt Awards for service to the hospital and the community.

Finally, on Oct. 29, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Director of Research David L. Spector, Ph.D., will speak about his research on “Searching for New Ways to Halt the Progression of Breast Cancer” at a free educational seminar at Mather Hospital’s new Long Island Anesthesia Physicians Conference Center starting at 6:30 p.m. For more information or to register, call 631-686-7878.

 

‘Victory at Ojai’ by Marge Governale. Image from North Shore Art Guild
‘Victory at Ojai’ by Marge Governale. Image from North Shore Art Guild

Tales of survival and hope at North Shore Art Guild’s latest exhibit
Mather Hospital has also teamed up with the North Shore Art Guild, the Village of Port Jefferson and the Port Jefferson Conservancy to present Artists United Against Breast Cancer, a juried art show currently on view at the Port Jefferson Village Center through Oct. 31. Featuring the works of more than 70 artists, the exhibit is inspired by the personal transformation, hope, love, fear, loss and victory associated with breast cancer. Choice of mediums included oil, acrylic, digital art, digital photographs and soft sculpture.

The show’s theme is “Victors of Survival, A Celebration of the Warrior Within Each of Us.” “Victors of Survival is not just about breast cancer. It’s about personal transformation, the person you become having faced the experience,” said Mac Titmus, vice president of the Art Guild and coordinator of the show. “It’s about the emergence of the warrior within, and the struggle that brings it forth. It’s about … how [the artists] choose to transform that passion into expression.”

Many of the artists in the show have been afflicted with breast cancer or have close family members who have.

One painting in the show stands out among the crowd. A woman stands atop a mountain, her arms raised in triumph. The woman is also the artist, Marge Governale of E. Setauket, and she is celebrating not only reaching the mountain’s summit, but surviving breast cancer. “It’s a painting of me right after I finished my treatment in October 2013, when I went with my daughter on a trip to Ojai, California,” said Governale.

In the painting, Governale’s hair is short, just growing back after chemotherapy. “I had not been exercising. My daughter said ‘let’s hike,’ and I made it the top of that mountain,” she said. It felt so good that I was able to get back to some of the things I loved after my treatment. That was a victory for me.”

“I only started painting because I had breast cancer,” she said. “Good things sometimes come from bad things.”

The winners were announced on Sept. 1. The judges included Judith Fortunato, Holly Gordon, Ward Hooper and Lori Horowitz.

Best in Show went to Len Sciacchitano for “What Will He Think.” “I remember the terror in my cousin’s eyes when she first told me she had cancer and a breast had to be removed. I can only imagine how she felt when she was faced with that diagnosis, the moment she heard, “You have breast cancer,” said Sciacchitano. “I’m sure it is a moment that remained in her mind for the rest of her life. I do not know how it feels and tried to visually imagine her emotions when she realized she needed major surgery and a portion of what she had known was being taken away,” he said.

Joanna Gazzola garnered first place for “Defiant Yet Vulnerable.” “I have had two friends and one relative who had cancer and who handled their illnesses with grit, determination and courage. One has survived for almost a decade so far and does walks to raise money for cancer research every year. The other two have passed, but provided so much inspiration to me,” said Gazzola. “I can only hope that I live and die with as much grace and thoughtfulness as they had,” said Gazzola.

Second place went to Zhen Guo for “Breasts are the Essence,” soft sculpture. Said Guo, “A woman’s breasts are symbolic of her multifaceted nature in many ways. They are the source of nourishment for infants, of warmth and security for her children, of sexuality and attractiveness for her mate. When they are injured, her whole being and all the people who know her are injured, too.”

Evelyn Adams, whose painting, “Unite & Fight For A Cure” won third place, said, “My mother passed away of breast cancer in 2008 at the age of 60. I became so mad with the disease.  However, as time passed by, I began to accept the reality of the disease and now I really do support the fight for breast cancer. Showing my support, I expressed my view for a cure in a special way. I cast my hand and then incorporated clay made breast, and also placed over 100 pieces of pink ribbons around a pedestal in which represent all families who are coming together and bringing awareness to breast cancer.” She went on, “Therefore, my main idea of this piece is to encourage viewers, families who had a family member died of breast cancer and those who are fighting breast cancer of hope for a cure.”

Honorable mentions went to Bernadette De Nyse for “Mortality Realized,” Joanna Gazzola for “Conflict, Denial and Understanding,” Neil Leinwohl for “New Blooms,” Lynellen Nielsen for “Grace,” Susan Silkowitz for “Abuela” and Angela Stratton for “The Protector.”

The Port Jefferson Village Center is located at 101A. E. Broadway. An artist reception will be held on Saturday, Oct. 3, from 4 to 7 p.m. on the second level with raffles, blind auctions and art sales. All of the artists have agreed to donate 25 percent of any sales to support breast health care at the Fortunato Breast Health Center of Mather Hospital. For further information about the art show, call 631-802-2160.

North Shore natives travel to Washington with hopes of swaying lawmakers to renew health care benefits

John Feal speaks at the September 11 memorial ceremony in Commack last week. Photo by Brenda Lentsch

The 9/11 first responders who have fought for years to get health care support are heading back to Washington, D.C., in hopes of ushering in the renewal of the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act. And for one Nesconset resident, change cannot come soon enough.

Parts of the bill will expire next month, and other parts in October 2016.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act would extend the programs of the original Zadroga act indefinitely. It was introduced to Congress in April and currently has 150 bipartisan co-sponsors.

“When this bill expires, our illnesses do not expire,” said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, in a phone interview. Feal, of Nesconset, has been walking the halls of Congress for the past eight years to help get this bill passed.

He is also a 9/11 first responder who worked on the reconstruction at Ground Zero, and lost half of his foot in the process. He suffered from gangrene, but he says his injuries “pale in comparison to other first responders.”

President Barack Obama signed the current Zadroga act into law in 2011 and established the World Trade Center Health Program, which will expire in October if not renewed.

The WTC program ensured that those whose health was affected by 9/11 would receive monitoring and treatment services for their health-related problems. It consists of a responder program for rescue and recovery workers and New York City firefighters, and a survivor program for those who lived, worked or went to school in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Zadroga act also reopened the September 11th Victims Compensation Act, which allows for anyone affected to file claims for economic losses due to physical harm or death caused by 9/11. That will expire in October of next year.

Feal said he was asked by television personality Jon Stewart to come on “The Daily Show” in December 2010, but the Nesconset native said he did not want to leave the real legislative fight in D.C. Instead, he helped get four 9/11 responders to the Dec. 16, 2010, episode, who helped shed light on the ongoing battle these responders were dealing with in Congress.

“He was definitely one of the reasons the bill got passed,” Feal said of Stewart. Stewart accompanied Feal and many other first responders when they traveled to Washington, D.C, on Wednesday, Sept. 16, and took part in a mini rally.

The bill did not pass the first time it was presented to Congress back in 2006. A new version was drafted in 2010 and passed in the House of Representatives, but was having trouble getting through the Senate due to a Republican filibuster. The bill received final congressional approval on Dec. 22, 2010, and was enacted by the president on Jan. 2, 2011.

“As we get older these illnesses will become debilitating,” Feal said. “Not extending this bill is criminal. People will die without it. It’s a life-saving piece of legislation.”

Jennifer McNamara, a Blue Point resident and president of The Johnny Mac Foundation, is also actively involved in the fight to keep responders health costs covered. Her late husband, John McNamara, passed away in 2009 from stage IV colon cancer.

He was a New York City Firefighter and worked more than 500 hours at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11. He worked with responders to get support for the Zadroga bill before he died.

“I made him a promise to continue to lend support to get this legislation passed,” Jennifer McNamara said in a phone interview. When her husband passed away, she said there weren’t as many responders getting sick as there are now. “People are dying more quickly, and more are getting diagnosed with cancers and other illnesses.”

The two big issues that McNamara said she feels need to continue to be addressed are monitoring these diseases and coverage of costs once someone is diagnosed. McNamara said she believes that if there were better monitoring programs earlier on, her husband could’ve been diagnosed before his cancer was stage IV, and he could’ve had a better chance.

“These people did tremendous things for their country,” McNamara said. “They shouldn’t have to guess about whether they are going to be taken care of.”

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