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Eagle Scout

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Body tissue belonging to James Nielsen, 17, who died in July, could prove helpful for researchers of aggressive, rare form of cancer

James Nielsen, 17, of Port Jefferson Station, while on a family trip in Tennessee to see the solar eclipse in 2017, just weeks before he and his family learned he had cancer. Photo from Steven Nielsen

Making sense of loss is never easy, though a Port Jefferson Station family has drawn strength from their 17-year-old son’s bravery and desire to help others, even in his last days.

“Bad things happen to people and this just happened to happen to me, and we’re just going to do the best we can with it,” James Nielsen told his father Steven when they learned the 17-year-old had been diagnosed with a form of cancer so rare and devastating only one documented case of survival exists.

James Nielsen, 17, of Port Jefferson Station, after becoming an Eagle Scout. Photo from Steven Nielsen

The Comsewogue High School student was diagnosed with NUT midline carcinoma in December 2017, an aggressive form of cancer akin to a death sentence. Despite the devastating prognosis, the Eagle Scout from Troop 454 engaged in rare, barely fleeting moments of despair, according to his parents, even spending the day he died — July 16, 2018 — playing UNO card games and watching the World Cup.

James’ form of cancer is characterized by tumors that form in bones or soft tissue. No effective treatment for NMC exists, there are no guidelines, and current approaches to treatment are based on discussions among a few oncologists who each have had a single experience treating this disease, according to the writings of Dr. Christopher French, a pathologist researching NMC at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston, who also advised James’ family after his diagnosis.

“The cancer type that he had is extremely rare and he has a yet even rarer variant of that cancer,” French said in a phone interview. “His tumor was really quite unique. It had a different gene, a variant that is extremely uncommon.”

In late August 2017, upon arriving at cross-country team practice at Comsewogue, James’ mother Jean Nielsen said she noticed a sizable lump on her son’s leg. She said he brushed off her concern, went to practice, and even ran an additional mile when he got home. That night, she had her husband Steven Nielsen examine James’ leg. He said it looked swollen but not necessarily alarming, but when he touched the tumor it was rock solid. A trip that same night to a walk-in medical clinic led to a visit to Stony Brook University Hospital, and by that weekend the family knew their oldest child of four had cancer.

Initially doctors believed he had Ewing’s sarcoma, a diagnosis with a far higher survival rate and clearer treatment options than NMC. In the early stages of his battle, James’ mother said she wrote “treatable and curable” on the first page of a journal the family kept pertaining to his illness. James began what was expected to be a 10-week cycle of chemotherapy, but by the second week of October 2017, it became clear the tumor wasn’t responding to treatment, and immediate surgery would be necessary.

At about 10 p.m. Oct. 12, 2017, just six hours before he was scheduled to head to Manhattan for surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, James’ surgeon called and informed his parents there was a possibility he would need to remove their son’s entire leg, and not just portions of the thigh muscle and femur as initially expected.

“I’ll never forget, he looked at us, he sat silent for a moment, and he goes, ‘OK — we’ll do what we have to do,’” James’ father recalled. “And then it was pretty much, ‘Good night.’”

During hour 17 of a 20-hour surgery, the Nielsens were finally informed James would be able to keep his leg.

A positive outlook is often cited as essential in situations like James’, and for the Nielsens positivity flowed on a two-way street.

James Nielsen rides around Manhattan on Thanksgiving night 2017 after undergoing a round of chemotherapy. Photo from Steven Nielsen

“I guess we’ve always just kind of been in the place like, ‘It doesn’t help’ — letting your head spin and certainly getting overwhelmed by emotion — you have to kind of keep everything together for him,” Steven Nielsen said. “He made us so strong. We made him strong, but he led the way.”

Being able to salvage his leg was a small, yet short-lived victory. By December, doctors were finally able to pinpoint his diagnosis. Staring down a cancer with such long odds of survival precipitated an unusual response from the Nielsens — a trip to Disney World.

“We didn’t let it control us, we controlled it,” the father said. Self-pity was never in James’ vernacular. “We were never naive about the possibilities of what could happen, but we also, all of us, really felt that it wasn’t worth putting your energy there. Put energy toward your cure. And so we lived life that way.”

The family dedicated their son’s last months to embracing life, spending Thanksgiving evening perusing Manhattan after an eight-hour round of chemo, looking at stores on Madison Avenue, a night his father remembered as “magical.” They visited a ranch in upstate New York just weeks before his death, one of James’ favorite places to vacation. They went to the beach.

While their focus was getting the most of their time remaining, James’ parents were far from ready to give up the fight. Feeling like their experience at Memorial Sloan Kettering left something to be desired, Steven Nielsen did some research that led him to French. James participated in some clinical trials and spent time at the Boston facility, where he and his father even managed to find time to explore the city and visit colleges with notable pharmacy programs, a field in which James had expressed a future interest.

The father’s dogged pursuit of answers for his son led French to mistakenly call him “doctor” during one of their numerous correspondence.

“He wrote in a way that made me think that he knew quite a bit about medicine, I just assumed he was a physician,” French said, laughing. Both Nielsens are teachers in the Comsewogue district.

French is hoping to soon be provided with donated tissue from James for the purpose of research, one of the teen’s dying wishes. His will be the first cancer cell line, which are living cancer cells used for research, with NMC that French will have been able to get his hands on, an essential gift if there’s any hope for untangling the mysteries of the cancer form.

“The tissue that he donated at his autopsy for research was priceless, and potentially a very valuable tool to perform research with,” French said. “He was just a sweet individual. It tore my heart out when I met him very briefly … It was quite riveting to meet him just sort of knowing the truth, that this was likely to not go well.”

For James the decision to donate tissue for research was reflexive and required about two minutes of thought, according to his parents. The teen was known for reusing Dixie cups and napkins because of his aversion to creating waste.

The Nielsen family goes pumpkin picking shortly before he underwent surgery in Oct. 2017 to remove a tumor from his right leg. Photo from Steven Nielsen

“For him it was just what you do — he didn’t think it was a big deal,” his mother said. “What we look to as heroic or whatever is not really that heroic. Sometimes unassuming people are the most heroic, not people who are very vociferous.”

She said the family can take some comfort in knowing there’s a possibility James’ struggles could lead to a better future for someone else.

“I think if you believe everyone has a purpose, you’d like to think such a horrible result would end with something purposeful, like contributing toward the cure for other people,” the father said. “For us to have him taken away, you hope that that’s the reason.”

The Nielsens expressed gratitude for the support and well wishes they’ve received from the community. Some of James’ classmates have taken up fundraising efforts to get a memorial built in downtown Port Jefferson. Members of the school’s marching band wore pins honoring their fallen peer at the homecoming football game this month. Still, his parents stressed James was not interested in pity or ritualistic gestures of remembrance.

“He was very kind, very sweet, very familial — old kind of qualities that aren’t maybe appreciated as much these days,” his mom said when asked how she hoped he’d be remembered. “He was very selfless.”

To donate to aid in NMC research visit http://www.myjimmyfundpage.org/give/nmcregistryfund.

Joseph DiBiasi shows off his completed project at the William Miller House property on North Country Road in Miller Place Sept. 29. Photo by Alex Petroski

Visitors to Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society’s annual Postman Pete event are in for an improved experience thanks to the ingenuity of a local Boy Scout who has reached Eagle status.

Boy Scouts hoping to become Eagle Scouts, the highest rank attainable by a male Scout, are tasked with completing a project that demonstrates leadership and benefits the community. Joseph DiBiasi, a 17-year-old Comsewogue High School senior and member of Boy Scout Troop 1776 said he has been attending the historical society’s Postman Pete festivities since he was a kid, an event that gives kids the chance to hand over a letter to be delivered to Santa around Christmas time.

Those interested line up to head into the building on the rear of the historical society’s property on North Country Road in Miller Place, where they head in when it’s their turn. The small building on the same grounds as the larger William Miller House has two points of entry, though the rear exit had about an 18-inch drop off from the doorway to a layer of rocks, making it unsafe for youngsters to utilize. Instead, a logjam would regularly take place at the main point of entry where those entering would have to saunter around those exiting.

“When kids would come in and see Postman Pete, bring their letter, and then they’d have to make a U-turn and go back out,” society treasurer Gerard Mannarino said Sept. 29 during the ceremony to unveil DiBiasi’s completed project. “It’s not an area that you can have traffic in both directions. We always wanted to be able to open the back door and have them go out, but we had the danger because the step down from there was big and it was just a big rock.”

For his project, DiBiasi drew up plans and constructed a deck, equipped with a railing, to make the rear of the building accessible and usable. The project required the drawing of plans, approval from the Town of Brookhaven building department and Historic District Advisory Committee, some redrawing and reimagining and lots of hard work through the spring and summer.

“In 2016 when Gerrard originally showed this to me I was like, ‘Wow, this needs to be fixed,’” DiBiasi said. “As a kid I went to Postman Pete and I just felt like, when I was a kid it was a big thing for me. So I thought this would be a great addition.”

Greg Muroff, DiBiasi’s Scoutmaster, said he was proud of his Scout’s diligence and dedication to the project, as it also exposed him to some of the “red tape” involved with getting construction projects approved by local government.

“It came out better than I saw in the drawing,” Muroff said. “I knew this was going to be a bit challenging for him but Joseph definitely persevered. He aspires to be an engineer at some point in his life. He definitely has a mathematical mind, and he put pen to paper.”

Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the event and presented proclamations to DiBiasi and Michael Muroff, another Scout from Troop 1776 who presented his completed project that day.

“We always like to take time out of our day to recognize and honor our Scouts,” Bonner said. “So much attention is focused on the bad things our kids are doing and not on the good things they’re doing. It makes me feel good to know that we’re surrounded by some really great kids.”

Mount Sinai Scout Michael Muroff stands with his completed Eagle Scout project Sept. 29, the front door of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society. Photo by Alex Petroski

A Mount Sinai Boy Scout literally restored an entryway to local history to complete his Eagle Scout project.

The front door to the William Miller House on North Country Road, a centuries-old building that has long served as the headquarters for the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society, was in a state of disrepair for longer than historian Edna Giffen could remember. Now, thanks to 17-year-old Scout Michael Muroff from Troop 1776, a brand new door constructed with a nod to history in mind hangs from the hinges, serving as a refurbished entry to local history.

Boy Scouts hoping to achieve Eagle status, the highest rank attainable by a male Scout, are tasked with completing a project that demonstrates leadership and benefits the community. Repairing the front door of the historical society met the criteria for Muroff, who said he and his family had been attending events — like the annual Country Fair that took place Sept. 29 during Muroff’s project unveiling — at the house since he was a kid.

Eagle Scout Michael Muroff, center, receives a proclamation from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, third from right, after unveiling is project Sept. 29. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I’ve always had an interest in local history, and it was always a subject I excelled at in class, and I thought by doing this project it would be a good way of giving back to the community and something that I really enjoy,” he said.

The work started with four to five weekends dedicated to just stripping the old paint off of the door frame using a heat gun and metal stripper, according to the Scout. With help from a local woodworker and others, a new, yet true to the original batten door was constructed. Batten doors traditionally have between six and eight wooden planks bound together. Muroff’s door features seven planks and includes the door’s original hinges, restored and repainted as well as part of the project. He also found authentic galvanized nails to match the original and maintain the new door’s historic integrity. The door’s original handle was left as is though, according to Muroff.

“The old door was falling apart and dilapidated, so we had to just completely make a new one,” Muroff said.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the event and joked she had never seen the front door of the building hang so straight and close so tightly.

“We always like to take time out of our day to recognize and honor our Scouts,” she said. “So much attention is focused on the bad things our kids are doing and not on the good things they’re doing. It makes me feel good to know that we’re surrounded by some really great kids.”

In August, Muroff’s sister Rebecca completed her Gold Award project, the equivalent to the Eagle project but for Girl Scouts, which entailed cataloging the historical society’s vast collection of historic photos. The Scouts’ dad Greg Muroff served as Michael’s Scoutmaster throughout his time working through the program.

“It’s just wonderful that many years coming down to the Country Fair and to see Postman Pete, just to have my children Rebecca and Michael give back to the historical society and the community is just a wonderful thing,” he said. “Mike has a tremendous love of history and this was an ideal project for him.”

He said it will be special for both him and his son to drive past the house on North Country Road for years to come and see his hard work front and center.

“I have to say, as his dad and Scoutmaster I’m especially proud,” the Scoutmaster said. “The Eagle Scout award is more than just a project, it’s a culmination of their Boy Scout career. It means a lot of leadership, service to the community and self-discipline.”

James Snider earned 33 merit badges and built a memorial garden at Port Jefferson Emergency Medical Service to earn his Eagle Scout award. Photo from Kim Snider

Within Boy Scout Troop 1776, adults and Scouts alike have always turned to Mount Sinai High School senior James Snider to lead the way. Whether it’s making sure his fellow Scouts have their tents set up and food prepared before monthly camping trips or energizing the troop with a rousing speech in meetings, the 17-year-old, who started as a Cub Scout in first grade, has served as an exemplary take-charge member.

“He’s always been very mature and served as a great teacher,” troop Scoutmaster Greg Muroff said. “His peers naturally gravitate toward him and he has the respect of everybody in the group.”

Mount Sinai Troop 1776 member James Snider became the first of his group to become an Eagle Scout. Photo from James Snider

So it makes sense that Snider recently became the first member of Troop 1776, which formed in 2013, to earn the coveted Eagle Scout Award, the highest rank a Scout can receive, which has been achieved by a small percentage of Scouts since 1912, according to the National Eagle Scout Associations. To become Eagle Scout, not only did he have to earn 21 merit badges — Snider collected a total of 33, including a bronze and gold Eagle palm — but also complete a year-long community service project. After the death of two members of Port Jefferson Emergency Medical Services on Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai in 2016, Snider committed himself to creating a memorial garden and sitting area on the department’s property. Between September 2016 and October 2017, when the garden was made official during a dedication ceremony, he installed a stepping stone path, tables, chairs and rose bushes, and built two wooden benches around a small tree on a stretch of empty open space through a donation provided by one of his troop leaders.

“It feels really good, and was definitely worth the time,” Snider said of his project’s impact. “I’m glad I made it to the end of the journey without giving up. I hope to be the example for future troop members.”

His mother, Kim Snider, a Suffolk County correction officer, said her son has already done that.

“A fire has been ignited by James — he’s definitely motivated others through this,” she said. “He’s probably the most determined human being I can possibly imagine. He always wants to do what’s right for the community and prides himself in leadership. He’s a very quiet boy, but has the ability to change an atmosphere. That’s just him — he naturally has good in his heart.”

Matthew Callen, a Mount Sinai junior and Snider’s scouting peer since fourth grade, said he is among those inspired.

“I really think it has impacted everybody in the troop,” said Callen, of his friend being named the first Eagle Scout from the troop. “Seeing him achieve Eagle opened my eyes to something I really wanted and gave me a lot of initiative to get focused and achieve this rank myself.”

“Seeing him achieve Eagle opened my eyes to something I really wanted and gave me a lot of initiative to get focused and achieve this rank myself.”

— Matthew Callen

Brian Callen, the Scout’s father, who is a committee chair member within Troop 1776, said when the idea came up to found the group, designed as a boy-led program that started with 20 members, it was decided to make Snider the second senior patrol leader at just 13. A year later, he was promoted.

“He quickly became comfortable speaking in front of large groups and conducting awards distributions,” Callen said. “The adults are really only there as supervisors. The boys do the planning, run the meetings and the camping trips, and he fell right into the role of leader. He’s never been the type of kid you ever had to correct.”

Snider has participated in the Great Brookhaven Cleanup, placed flags at Calverton Cemetery leading up to Memorial Day and, for the past four years, volunteered at a local veterans home.

During a ceremony held in honor of Snider’s accomplishment at Mount Sinai High School last month, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) called his persistence  a “vital asset to the community.”

“Through his hard work, dedication and commitment to scouting, James has proven himself to be an extraordinary leader,” Anker said. “His Eagle Scout accomplishment will set an example for the younger scouts in Troop 1776. I congratulate him and wish him continued success in his future endeavors.”

Snider will be attending Sacred Heart University in Connecticut in the fall in pursuit of a degree in business finance.

“In the future I’d like to be head of a company, and Boy Scouts has helped me become a leader,” Snider said. “I’ve learned to treat others with respect, make sure everyone around me is happy and everything is dealt with correctly.”

Eagle Scout John Ninia stands by the dogwood trees he planted at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo from Jerry Ninia

For one Eagle Scout, earning coveted merit badges has been more than a pastime; it’s been a mission. The undertaking has led him to earn all 137 badges a Scout can receive — an accomplishment only 6 percent of scouts in the nation have achieved, according to the Boy Scouts of America website.

John Ninia, of Poquott, a senior at Ward Melville High School, moved up from Cub Scout to Boy Scout when he was 11 years old. Ninia said it took him six years to earn all 137 badges. A scout needs 21 badges to become an Eagle Scout — 16 being mandatory ones.

“I just went for all of them,” the Troop 70 Eagle Scout said.

When he was 12 years old, Ninia said he attended Boy Scout camp, where his mission to collect every badge first became his goal.

John Ninia, an Eagle Scout in Troop 70, proudly wears his 137 badges. Photo from Jerry Ninia

“I remember after my first week of summer camp, I was on my way home and I was really thrilled,” he said. “Usually you can get five badges if you’re really into it but I got about 11, and my parents mentioned that I could go back for a second week.”

Ninia said he immediately signed up for the second week, and when he earned 20 badges that summer, he said it was a great feeling. The Scout said some merit badges, such as one for art, can take a day and a half, while personal fitness, family life and other badges require more time, even months. He said a scuba badge took several days of training to earn certification, while achieving the water skiing one was the most difficult, but he kept trying until he could stand up on the skis.

Ninia completed three Hornaday projects, which are tasks that involve the environment. He eliminated invasive knotweed, a Japanese plant, at West Meadow Beach, planted trees at Frank Melville Memorial Park and installed a rain garden in the Village of Poquott’s California Park. Working to improve the environment is a passion of his, and he plans to major in environmental studies in college.

Frank Melville Memorial Foundation Park Board President Robert Reuter said Ninia worked diligently to clear a substantial vine-choked area adjacent to the Bates House in the park. His work saved existing trees and allowed for the planting of several native white flowering dogwoods.

“It’s revealing of his commitment that I get calls from John offering to continue the work,” Reuter said. “This young man has a bright future underpinned by his extraordinary personal achievements and service to community.”

Robert Mandell, who was Ninia’s troop leader for the majority of the time he has been in Boy Scouts, said he remembers the teenager coming to him telling him how he earned badges for various activities such as glass blowing and concrete mixing. The former troop leader he said he would question him at length about what he did to earn the badge.

“I quizzed them like the FBI,” Mandell said.

He said he wasn’t surprised when Ninia earned every badge, saying he is a smart, hardworking teenager.

“This young man is driven,” the former troop leader said.

While the experiences earning the badges have provided great memories for Ninia, he said what he has enjoyed most during his Scouting years has been “providing leadership to a group of scouts and helping them with their own ability to rank up.”

“This young man has a bright future underpinned by his extraordinary personal achievements and service to community.”

— Robert Reuter

Despite a busy schedule with school, the cross-country team and DECA, Ninia said it’s important to make time for Scouting.

The high school senior said one can no longer be a scout after 18, but while his days as a scout may be over soon, he hopes to always be a part of the organization in some way, even though he’s not sure about being a troop leader.

“It’s hard, and I do have a lot of stuff and I’m a busy guy, but Scouting is something I’ve loved so I’ve always been able to make time for it,” he said. His advice to other Scouts? “Try your best and shoot for the stars.”

Ninia’s father Jerry said the family, which includes mom Lynn and siblings James and Christina, is proud of their Scout and his accomplishments.

“He’s a good kid,” his father said. “He works very hard He perseveres. He has a can-do attitude. He’s just the kind of guy that makes things happen.”

Achieving merit badges makes a Scout a more well-rounded individual, according to Jerry Ninia.

“When you think about it, 137 merit badges, it touches on everything from art to architecture to woodworking to metalworking to horseback riding to law and medicine to water sports and everything in between,” he said. “You can probably strike up a conversation with anyone as a young adult and speak to anyone from practically any walk of life because you’ll probably feel some commonality.”

Community responds to call for help following car crash involving a volunteer fireman

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. is a volunteer fireman for the Sound Beach Fire Department. Photo by Stefanie Handshaw

By Kevin Redding

Friends, family and community members did their own quick responding for a beloved Sound Beach firefighter who suffered serious injuries in a recent car crash.

A GoFundMe page to support Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. was set up Dec. 23, one day after the 24-year-old volunteer was rushed to Stony Brook University Hospital following a collision with another vehicle on Route 25A and Harrison Ave. in MIller Place at 5 p.m.

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr.’s car following his crash on Route 25A Dec. 22. Photo from Sound Beach Fire Department

According to those close to him, McLoughlin Jr. was pulling into a lot to get a haircut when a driver ran a red light and broadsided his vehicle.

The online fundraiser hit its goal of $15,000 after just two days, and within 10, the fund exceeded the goal with $19,664. So far 350 people have donated, with individual contributions ranging from $5 to as much as $1,000.

The accident left McLoughlin Jr. with two broken vertebrae, and since he’ll be out of work for a minimum of three months, the money raised will go toward the surgery he needed to fuse part of his spine, future medical and rehabilitation costs and the eventual replacement of his totaled vehicle.

The Sound Beach native recently graduated from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut with a communications degree and has been juggling a second part-time job as a freelance cameraman for Fox 5 NY.

Sound Beach Fire Department Chief Thomas Sternberg spearheaded the campaign on behalf of the district, with the hope of giving back to someone he considers “a very dedicated man to the department and the community.”

“I was amazed at how many people stepped up to help him out … we’re very appreciative of anyone who has donated,” he said. “Jimmy has always been there when you need him. He’s always willing to train, always willing to help anybody.”

Sound Beach Captain Darran Handshaw, who compiled the GoFundMe page, said the speedy outpouring and money raised is a testament to McLoughlin Jr.’s character.

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. holding his Firefighter of the Year award with Sound Beach Fire Department Chief Thomas Sternberg. Photo from Sound Beach Fire Department

“He’s done so much for the community and he’s just an all around great guy,” Handshaw said. “He’s always a reliable firefighter, always on the first engine and somebody that I count on when I get into a fire.”

McLoughlin Jr. has a lifelong commitment to the fire department — in fact, it’s in his blood.

His father, James McLoughlin Sr., currently serves as fire commissioner for Sound Beach and was once the chief.

“When he was born, I was a fire chief,” his father said. “He was part of the department from the time he took his first breath, and there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t stop there for one reason for another. As long as he’s in town, he’s there.”

McLoughlin said it’s heartwarming to see all the support his son has in the community.

“He’s one of the go-to people when somebody needs help,” he said. “Ever since he was a child, Jimmy was very community-oriented.”

McLoughlin Jr. joined the junior fire company when he was 13 years old and served in it for five years while simultaneously climbing the ranks toward Eagle Scout. He graduated from Rocky Point High School in 2011 and on his 18th birthday, he joined the fire department and maintained his responsibilities there whenever he came home from college for summer and winter breaks.

“He got his fire academy training squeezed in while going to college; he just lives and breaths the fire service,” McLoughlin Sr. said. “Even people who went to school locally weren’t able to maintain their fire responsibilities and quotas, and he was able to do it while going to school out of state.”

As driver on one of the fire engines, McLoughlin Jr.’s responsibilities are to maintain the truck, make sure it’s in working order and train every individual that comes into the department. To this day, his father said, anyone who needs to learn how to drive or pump one of the engines, “they go to Jimmy to learn how to do it.”

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. is a freelance cameraman for Fox 5 NY. Photo from Jimmy McLoughlin Jr.’s Facebook page

In 2014, McLoughlin Jr. was recognized for all his contributions and ability to balance his fire services and academics when he was chosen by the department as Firefighter of the Year, the fire department’s highest honor. He also received his engine company’s award the same year, which is given out by the fire department for demonstrating a certain level of skill performance and recognizes one’s ability to work within a team.

According to the GoFundMe page, he’s “performed so many heroic acts of kindness for the community.”

In 2015, he fought a large house fire inside a fellow firefighter’s family home. McLoughlin Jr. manned the hoseline, went inside the house and stopped the fire that had spread through the basement and most of the main floor.

Afterward, he filmed and produced a video with the family who lost almost everything in the fire in which they shared their experience with the community to teach key fire safety lessons. The video has since been seen all over the world and has been an integral part of Sound Beach’s fire prevention efforts.

According to his father, McLoughlin Jr. is out of surgery and resting at home. He has been able to walk and move around, but because of the procedure, he has to wear a collar support for the next six to eight weeks. He’s still in a lot of pain.

McLoughlin Jr. might have a long road to full rehabilitation ahead, but his usual spirit remains intact.

“He’s determined,” McLoughlin Sr. said. “He’s got a positive outlook … it’s not ‘am I gonna be on my feet?’ it’s ‘when I’m back on my feet.’”

A closer look at the life-size bust of Thomas Cutinella that rests in front of the wall along the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

It was a huge undertaking, and there may have been some doubt, but Shoreham Boy Scout Ryan Ledda was able to complete his Thomas Cutinella memorial wall.

Ledda, a junior wide receiver on the Shoreham-Wading River football team, decided to dedicate his Eagle Scout project in memory of Cutinella, who died following a head-on collision on the football field in 2014.

The Thomas Cutinella memorial wall was made possible by Boy Scout Ryan Ledda. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The Thomas Cutinella memorial wall was made possible by Boy Scout Ryan Ledda. Photo by Desirée Keegan

His plan was to build a wall with pavers that would be purchased by members of the community, with the option of them being engraved, and a bronze statue of a football or helmet. What Ledda ended up getting from the project was even greater.

“I was able to do everything I hoped to do and more,” he said. “It started out as a helmet and football, then just a chest-up bust of Tom, and now it’s a waist-up life-size bust of Tom.”

His father Rich, who is also one of his troop leaders, liked the original idea, but had some reservations.

“I thought it was a big undertaking, but I also thought it was a great tribute to a member of the community,” he said. “I had some doubts at first, and Ryan assured me along the way, telling me ‘Dad, I got this.’ And he did.”

What made the project that much more special, was the community’s support.

“It was heartwarming,” Ledda said of seeing the hamlets, Shoreham and Wading River, and even surrounding communities, continue to rally together to support Tom. “I realized how close our community is. It feels amazing knowing that our community came together to do such a wonderful thing. And it makes me feel really good about myself.”

Shoreham Boy Scout Ryan Ledda came up with the idea for the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Wall, as his Eagle Scout project. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district
Shoreham Boy Scout Ryan Ledda came up with the idea for the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Wall, as his Eagle Scout project. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

Ledda had some help along the way.

Ed Walker, owner of and sculptor at Carolina Bronze Sculpture Inc. in North Carolina, remembers his first interaction with the junior.

“The call was from a Boy Scout telling me about an Eagle Scout project, and I had never heard of an Eagle project like the one he proposed,’ Walker said. “I gave him a cost, and there was a gasp before he told me he’d get to work on it. I didn’t think I was going to hear from him again.”

But five months later, he did.

“The young boy said ‘Well, Mr. Walker, I have the money, but here’s my dad, because I’m too young to sign a contract,” Walker said, laughing. “I was surprised to say the least, and feel honored we were chosen to complete the project. I was very touched by Tom’s story.”

Walker went online to read articles and study photos of Tom. He was in contact with Tom’s parents, and worked to produce the best, most accurate depiction of Tom that he could.

“Any time I work on a portrait, I like to find out all that I can about the person,” he said. “In our consumerous age, when everything gets thrown away, this is something that lasts forever. This has a lot of meaning and will for a long time. It’s a very satisfying thing to do this line of work.”

For football teams to come, the $38,000 wall and bust, which rests on the side of the new Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, will be a place teammates will pass before touching a monument rock, as the guys take the field. Funds were raised through a Go Fund Me page, and Ledda also enlisted donations from Emerald Landscaping. It took three years to raise the money, but just a few days to construct the project.

The Thomas Cutinella Memorial Wall was constructed with the help of funds raised from a Go Fund Me page, where pavers were purchased and engraved. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The Thomas Cutinella Memorial Wall was constructed with the help of funds raised from a Go Fund Me page, where pavers were purchased and engraved. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It adds to the field, and it shows future football teams how close we are,” Ledda said. “I think it sets a precedent for our football program. Now it’s a place they could go to remember Tom and think about all of the good things he did in his life.”

For Kevin Cutinella, Thomas’ younger brother, who is a senior and quarterback of the Wildcats football team and midfielder on the lacrosse team, the piece has an even greater meaning.

“I think the final product is gorgeous,” Cutinella said. “I never expected it to be as big as it later came out to be, and [Ledda] did an outstanding job and is an amazing person. Seeing the community, once again, support Tom’s legacy, memory and life — it means everything to me and my family. We are very grateful for everything the community has done and continues to do. I am grateful, honored and humbled that this monument was built. I feel happy because Tom deserved to be noticed and respected every day.”

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