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Lisa Pepper-Byron. Photo from Help Lisa Medulloblastoma Treatment andCare GoFundMe page

A native of Shoreham is in need of help. 

Lisa Pepper-Byron, a mother of three young daughters ages 2, 6 and 7, was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancerous tumor that starts in the brain and spreads to the spine, in December 2018. 

Earlier last month, members of her family created a GoFundMe page in her name. Pepper-Byron now resides in Concord, North Carolina, along with the majority of her family and was working as a wedding planner before she was diagnosed, and she currently lacks health insurance. Since she has started radiation treatments, she is unable to work and support her family, according to the GoFundMe page. 

Jamie Pepper, one of the Shoreham native’s sisters, said her sibling is a giver and tries to be the best role model she can be for her young daughters. 

Lisa Pepper-Byron with her three daughters. Photo from Help Lisa Medulloblastoma Treatment andCare GoFundMe page

Pepper-Byron grew up and lived on Long Island for much of her life, graduating from Shoreham-Wading River High School in 2002 and during her high school days worked at Mr. G’s Pizza in Wading River. The mother of three only moved to North Carolina in the past few years. 

The GoFundMe campaign has already raised close over $7,300 of the $200,000 goal within a month, with 127 individuals having donated. The is a currently trending campaign on the site. 

“Lisa is really overwhelmed with the amount of support she has been receiving,” Pepper-Byron’s sister said. “She is doing her best to remain strong during this
difficult time.”

Pepper-Byron recently underwent surgery to remove two tumors from her brain to try to prevent the cancer from spreading to her spine. After the surgery, she began another round of chemotherapy. 

“Our family is very grateful for the amount of love and generous contributions Lisa has been receiving on her GoFundMe campaign,” Pepper said. 

All funds collected from the campaign will go for treatments, medications, a reliable vehicle and short-term expenses for her and the family. The family hopes people support the campaign so that Pepper-Byron can undergo her chemotherapy treatments without the worries of all the expenses involved. You can donate to campaign at https://www.gofundme.com/help-lisas-brain-cancer-treatment-and-care or can send contributions to the Pepper Family at 101 Georgia Street NW, Concord, North Carolina, 28025.

Huntington High School graduate Landary Rivas Argueta steps forward to speak about the GoFundMe for Alex at the Jan. 7 meeting. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Among the outpouring of emotions by Huntington residents Monday night, were tears and calls on the community to come to the aid of Alex, the Huntington High School student who was deported to his native Honduras in July 2018.

Landary Rivas Argueta, a 2016 graduate of Huntington High School, said he and his fellow Latino community members made a GoFundMe account titled “Justice for Alex” after reading the New York Times Magazine article published Dec. 27.

“I’ve been working closely with Alex’s family and brother, as me and my friends have made a GoFundMe to help the family given everything that’s happened,” he said.

This family is very hard working and have done all they can to try to protect their son.”

—Justice for Alex GoFundMe page

Alex’s family has racked up approximately $25,000 in bills since their son’s plight began between legal fees, transportation costs, loss of wages and providing for him while living in Honduras, according to the GoFundMe site.

“This family is very hard working and have done all they can to try to protect their son,” the GoFundMe page read.

While admitting he didn’t know Alex when he was living in Huntington, Rivas Argueta said he’s gotten involved simply as it’s the right thing to do.

Several other Huntington residents pleaded with Huntington school district administrators to take what actions they can to help Alex.

“Huntington High School must get rid of Operation Matador, reunite Alex with his family, close the detention centers and treat all people of color  with respect,” Huntington resident Susan Widerman said.

Huntington board of education trustee Xavier Palacios said he’s received dozens of emails, phone calls and text messages from alumni ranging from San Diego to New Jersey  asking how they can be of help.

“Few times do I see the outpouring of compassion that I’ve seen in Alex’s case,” he said.

The GoFundMe has raised $1,500 of its $10,000 goal as of 8 p.m. Jan. 8. The page can be found at www.gofundme.com/rehbs-justice-for-alex. Social media updates are being posted under #justiceforalex and #justiciaparaalex.d

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A  Nesconset school that provides  educational opportunities for deaf children is pleading for the public’s help in funding a new playground for its students.

The yard outside Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset lies barren, as old split railroad ties square off desolate sections of rock devoid of any slides or swings. Jacqueline Simms, the school’s executive director, said the school was forced to remove its 30-year-old wooden playgrounds in May after an engineer determined they were “inappropriate” and did not meet New York State Department of Education’s safety requirements.

Since then, parents of its deaf students have launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $100,000 toward a playground.

These are school-aged children with disabilities who don’t have a playground.”

— Nicole Abbene

“These are school-aged children with disabilities who don’t have a playground,” Nicole Abbene, of Smithtown, said. “They already feel different in regard to their disability, so for them to have a playground would allow them to have the same opportunity as every other child.”

Abbene said her son, Liam, has attended Cleary since he was 3 months old in their Parent Infant Program, designed for children with profound hearing loss from birth through age 3, with their families. Now, at age 4, he’s in a full-day preschool program for children ages 3 to 7 that has approximately 50 enrolled students from 36 school districts across Suffolk County.

“We have a growing enrollment — a huge growing enrollment — that we are meeting with our [state] legislators to see if we can do something about,” Simms said.

The executive director said the state’s funding for the school has not increased proportionally to the influx of students, leaving it tight on funds for capital improvements and the latest technology needed to assist its hearing-impaired children. Simms said she has applied to several grant programs but has yet to be awarded any money.

I took them outside, and we started to play hide-and-seek. There was no place to hide.”

— Katie Kerzner

“We’ve been trying to do everything to accommodate our population and help with the struggle of not having a playground,” she said.

The school’s staff has set up a small portable jungle gym, a few sand tables and set out tricycles and foot-powered minicars for the children to play on the blacktop. It has created a small play loft in its library, but Principal Katie Kerzner said these don’t fully fill the gap with the opportunities the children would have with an outdoor playground.

“I took them outside, and we started to play hide-and-seek,” she said. “There was no place to hide.”

Kerzner said teaching her preschool children games has been difficult without a playground. In addition, the principal said students’ interaction on playground equipment can provide vital life lessons.

“For children with hearing loss, they need opportunities to practice having those language experiences,” she said. “For our kids it’s all about language. They need more typical, realistic situations to practice their skills.”

We are all aching to have something for the spring.”

— Katie Kerzner

The GoFundMe campaign launched by Abbene has raised more than $6,000, as of press time, for an age-appropriate playground for children ages 3 to 7. Cleary’s executive director said the school once had three playgrounds divided by age group: birth to age 3, ages 3 to 7, and a third for older school-aged children in its full-time summer programs. The school has received an estimate of $150,000 to replace one playground, according to Simms, and would require significantly more funds to purchase new age-appropriate, handicapped-accessible equipment for all its students.

“We are all aching to have something for the spring,” the principal said. “Our goal is when the kids open that door, after the snow melts, there’s something out there that will facilitate their play.”

In recent weeks, the GoFundMe campaign has captured the attention of some local businesses, who have stepped forward offering aid, and community residents. Simms said one generous individual stepped into the school to donate $150 in person, not sure how to give via the website. While she is “extremely grateful,” Cleary still needs to raise significant funds.

“The playground presents itself as a must,” Kerzner said. “It’s not something on a wish list. It’s a have-to-have.”

Third-grade student struck by van in Huntington, undergoing treatment at Cohen Children’s Medical Center

The Mendelsohn family of Lloyd Harbor. Photo from GoFundMe

Two distant Long Island communities have rallied to support an 8-year-old Lloyd Harbor girl seriously injured in a Huntington accident earlier this month.

GoFundMe campaigns have raised more than $40,000 to help Leah Mendelsohn, a third-grader at Lloyd Harbor School, who was hit by a van while crossing New York Avenue Nov. 3. Each fundraising campaign hopes to be able to offset the family’s medical bills while Mendelsohn begins her long road to recovery.

“Communities come together when they need to,” said Lisa Pinsker, of East Northport, a longtime family friend of the Mendelsohn family. “I’m happy to know that it’s going to help them — and after the amount of money we raised, they are pretty grateful for it.”

I’m happy to know that it’s going to help them — and after the amount of money we raised, they are pretty grateful for it.”

— Lisa Pinsker

On Nov. 3, Leah was with her mother picking up her younger sister, Sara, from dance class at Laura’s Dance & Fitness Studio in Huntingtonat approximately 12:10 p.m. As Leah was crossing New York Avenue, she was hit by a 1997 Ford van traveling southbound driven by Pedro Guerrero, of West Babylon. He stayed at the scene of the accident.

Leah was transported to Huntington Hospital by the Huntington Community First Aid Squad, then transferred to the intensive care unit of Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park due to her extensive head trauma, liver and lung injuries.

The first GoFundMe Campaign for Leah was launched by ENT and Allergy Associates, a Garden City-based medical practice where her father, Michael, works as a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist. It has raised more than $22,800 of its $25,000 goal as of this paper’s press time Nov. 20 and can be found at www.gofundme.com/helping-leah-mendelsohn.

The medical office jumped into action as Dr. Mendelsohn has been out of work for several months, in and out of hospitals battling a life-threatening infection, according to Pinsker.

“It’s the financial burden that’s hitting the family right now,” she said. “When he’s not able to work, he doesn’t get paid.”

Leah’s father has extended his leave from work in order to stay 24/7 at the bedside of his daughter, who is undergoing extensive surgeries at Cohen’s. She most recently underwent a skull reconstruction surgery Nov. 14.

We’re hopeful, but she’s got a really long road to recovery in front of her.”

— Lisa Pinsker

A second GoFundMe campaign was launched by family friend Tricia Avidano, of Cold Spring Harbor, who hoped to raise an additional $20,000 to help offset Leah’s medical bills and family’s expenses at this difficult time. Avidano turned to Pinsker for help in terms of helping direct the funds to the family.

The page has raised more than $22,000 of its $20,000 goal as of Nov. 20 and is no longer accepting donations. It can be found at www.gofundme.com/help-for-leah-mendelsohn-and-family.

In addition to the fundraisers, Pinsker said the Lloyd Harbor community has pulled together to prepare hot evening meals for the five-person Mendelsohn family.

“Every night there’s somebody coming in to make sure they are eating — eating healthy — and taken care of,” Pinsker said.

She said the family hopes as of Nov. 16 that Leah would be released from the hospital soon but will have to undergo extensive therapy at home.

“We’re hopeful, but she’s got a really long road to recovery in front of her,” Pinsker said.

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Theilen family launches GoFundMe campaign to cover medical costs from Evelyn’s battle with neurofibromatosis

The Theilen family of Smithtown. Photo from Theilen family.

By Kevin Redding

It was a parental nightmare. Immediately following the birth of their twins in 2016, Allon and Lauren Theilen of Smithtown were told by doctors that their daughter’s leg was broken and it had no chance of healing. An hour later, they learned that amputation would be in little Evelyn’s future.

“It was devastating,” Allon Theilen said.

His wife, Lauren, who experienced no difficulties during pregnancy, said it was the hardest thing in the world to hear.

Through testing and meetings with multiple orthopedists, the couple found out Evelyn suffers from a condition called pseudoarthrosis of the tibia, which is caused by a rare genetic, cancer-related disease known as neurofibromatosis Type 1, or NF1, which occurs in one of every 3,000 to 4,000 people worldwide, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Evelyn’s bone fragility was among NF1’s rarest symptoms. The disease has been aggressive, eating away at her leg bone. So far, Evelyn has had a broken tibia, a broken fibula and her legs are no longer equal in length.

Evelyn Theilen, of Smithtown, is held by her mother, Lauren Theilen. Photo from Theilen family.

The Theilens have sought treatment options that would allow their daughter to keep her leg, setting them on a journey across the state, and then the country.

“Most doctors we met would offer a surgery but with a very bleak outlook,” her father said. “Every time you do the surgery, you lose more leg bone. Most failed surgeries meant amputation.”

Lauren Theilen said it was sometimes difficult to even find somebody who was aware of their daughter’s medical condition at all.

Extensive research led them to the Paley Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida, a limb-saving and deformity-correction practice started by Dr. Dror Paley, whom Allon Theilen calls “the miracle man.” After several trips from New York to Florida and meeting with  Paley, a challenging surgery that involves a bone graft taken from both sides of her hips and a hollowing of her two leg bones in an attempt to fuse the leg was scheduled.

“Sitting in a waiting room full of parents in the same position spoke volumes to us,” Evelyn’s mother said. “I’m hopeful now, but also terrified.”

On Feb. 8, Evelyn, now a 14-month-old described by her parents as “feisty, happy, playful and out-of-this-world intelligent,” underwent the surgery. The final results won’t be known for another six weeks. The Theilens said the best outcome would be that her bone fully mends and she’ll need to wear a brace until she’s about age 18 to help stretch her damaged leg to equal length with the other. Alternatively, the bone won’t heal, the graft and tibia won’t fuse, her ankle becomes deformed and other abnormalities may occur.

“I think this is the most trying year we’ll ever have to go through,” Lauren Theilen said. “People always say, ‘Look at you guys. You’re so strong.’ To me, it kind of feels like we’re just going day-by-day, doing what we have to do. There are days when he falls apart and I have to pick up, and vice-versa. We kind of take turns being strong and being there for each other.”

The Theilen twins of Smithtown pretend to drive. Photo from Theilen family.

Allon Theilen set up a GoFundMe campaign Feb. 3, asking for a total $25,000 to help cover some of Evelyn’s medical costs. The family has  exhausted their life savings on “medical expenses, flights and hotels,” and his wife has been forced to put her job on hold. Even after health care insurance, the surgery costs about $10,000.

In 18 days, the page has raised $18,906 from family, friends and generous strangers. 

“That really blew me away,” said Allon’s sister, Andrea Morris, a Huntington resident. “I was overwhelmed by how many people came together for them.”

Evelyn’s father said despite what happens, he and his wife will never give up.

“We’ve dealt with a lot and keep our feet planted to the ground,” he said. “It sounds nonhumbling to say we’re very strong but that’s what everyone tells us, so we kind of have to believe them.”

The Theilen family’s GoFundMe page can be found at www.gofundme.com/evelyn039s-battle-with-nf1.

A dog is rescued from flood waters of Hurrican Harvey in Texas. Photo from Mark Freeley's GoFundMe

After internet sensation Storm, an English golden retriever, saved a drowning fawn from Port Jefferson Harbor, now owner Mark Freely is looking to help others.

Last Chance Animal Rescue is teaming up with Freeley’s North Shore Injury Lawyer and volunteer Jeff Segal, owner of Boom Event Source, to help thousands of animals affected and displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Freeley is an animal adoption event leader, foster and pro bono attorney for Last Chance Animal Rescue on Long Island. He said the organization has a truck leaving next Wednesday, Sept. 6, being driven by Segal’s friend transporting all needed supplies to Texas, according to an email from Freeley.

There is a need for donations of dog and cat food bowls, leashes, collars, collapsible crates, cat litter and disposable litter pans.

“Last Chance has already stepped up to donate many of their existing donations to help these animals who are in dire need,” Freeley said of the Southampton-based nonprofit. “Donations will help us to send these items to Texas, and purchased items can also be donated to us.”

Items to be donated must be handed in no later than Sept. 5. Items can be brought to Freeley’s law office at 144 Woodbury Rd. in Woodbury from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., to Boom Event Source located at 11 Michael Avenue in Farmingdale from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. or to the Last Chance adoption event at the Selden Petco Sept. 2 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A truck will be dropping off supplies to the George Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, which is housing over 400 animals and 8,000 people, to San Antonio Pets Alive Rescue and some will also be dropped off at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey, which will be taking in 200 displaced rescue animals from the Texas flooding.

“They are so desperately need our help, and as much as possible,” Freeley said. “The animals of Texas are counting on us.”

Freeley has already collected $2,200 from 41 people in less than 24 hours after creating a GoFundMe page to help the cause. The current goal is $3,000.

“Thank you for helping these poor animals,” Danielle DiNovi said with her donation.

“God bless the victims of Hurricane Harvey,” wrote Geri Napolitano with a contribution to the cause, “both big and small.”

Steve Kramer raising money to bring Berlinda to U.S. to undergo surgery on her two clubbed feet

By Desirée Keegan

Through the efforts of a retired physicist, an orthopedic surgeon from Stony Brook University and a dedicated Haitian who has since moved to Long Island, a 16-year-old from Haiti is on a path with more open doors than ever.

Berlinda was born with two clubbed feet, though she is motivated to better herself, with the dream of one day walking on her own two feet. Steve Kramer, a retired Brookhaven National Lab accelerator physicist met the student in Haiti through Life & Hope Haiti, a nonprofit founded by Haitian-American Lucia Anglade, who built the Eben Ezer School in her hometown of Milot, Haiti.

Berlinda practices arithmetic. Photo from Steve Kramer

“She had only been at the school for a few months and she was already learning basic arithmetic,” Kramer said of seeing Berlinda back in March, after meeting her during her introduction to the school in December. “I gave her two columns of work and she handed it back to me with a big smile and said, ‘more.’”

Berlinda has spirit, according to many who have met her, and Kramer was so moved by the story that he reached out to Dr. Wesley Carrion at Stony Brook University School of Medicine’s orthopedics department about performing surgery to fix the girl’s feet. He agreed to do it free of charge.

When he contacted Carrion, Kramer said his secretary Joan mentioned he was deployed in Afghanistan and she didn’t know when he would return. Within a day or two she called to tell him she’d heard from the doctor, who said he’d return by April. In May, the two met.

“I sent him copies of Berlinda’s X-rays and the video and he said he felt he could treat her and rotate the feet, and he would donate his time and get the equipment donated,” Kramer said. “That was a big relief. I felt it might become a reality.”

Carrion had informed Kramer that he would need to get the hospital to donate some of the costs, so Kramer reached out to the Department of Medicine’s Dr. L. Reuven Pasternak, who serves as vice president for health systems and chief executive officer of Stony Brook University Hospital.

What the external cages look like that will be used to repair Berlinda’s clubbed feet. Photo from Steve Kramer

“He said they would cover her hospital costs,” Kramer said after his meeting with Pasternak in July. “This was a bigger relief since beside rotating the club feet we need to check out the status of the hole her spinal column might still have from the spinal bifida she was diagnosed as having. Everyone told me the hole doesn’t close up on its own, but she is doing so well that it may have, but it needs to be checked and closed if it is still open.”

To help bring Berlinda to the United States, Kramer set up a GoFundMe to raise money for her flight cost and other post-operation expenses.

“The fundraising has been going slower than I had hoped, even though everyone I contact is verbally supportive,” he said. “As a physicist my human appeal needs a lot of improvement to really move people to give. But then I look at the video and see the determination she has and feel she will deal with it as she has the tragic events she has already endured and I know she will persevere and will learn to walk.”

Following the surgery, Berlinda will be in the hospital for four months, getting her feet rotated to stretch the tendons as part of the healing process. Her legs will be in cages called external frames that will be attached by pins drilled into her leg bones. Because these create open wounds, it’s best for her to stay the hospital instead of returning to Haiti, to keep the wounds sterile. While recovering, she will continue to go through schooling, which will be one-on-one instead of in a larger classroom back in Haiti.

Without the construction of The Eben Ezer School, Berlinda’s struggles might never have come to light for Kramer. What began as a 10-child school back in 2001 has grown to population over 400, according to Anglade.

“I took the $7,000 I received from my tax return and decided I wanted to build a school in my home country — that had been my motivation,” said Anglade, who now lives in West Babylon. “I’m so blessed. I thank God for that, say thank you all the time. It’s a big school now, and we’re still helping.”

Berlinda crawls on her hands and knees because she cannot walk with her two clubbed feet. Photo from Steve Kramer

Anglade first visited Berlinda at her house, and heard from the 16-year-old how her brothers and sisters attended school, and she wished she could join them. Because the school is far from her house, she couldn’t walk there.

“I went to her house and she was quiet, said she can’t go to school,” Anglade said. “I told her I was going to help her, and I took her to the school. I pay someone to stay with her at the school. Her dream is to walk, to learn, to be someone. She wants to be happy.”

Kramer and Stony Brook University Hospital are making her dream a reality.

“Thank God for Steve — he has a good heart and I can’t do it by myself,” Anglade said. “With all my heart, I am so happy. Steve has put in a lot of effort to helping Berlinda make her dream come true.”

Kramer first visited the Eben Ezer School through Wading River’s North Shore United Methodist Church in 2015. He joined a group visiting Haiti in February, and has since visited three more times by himself and with Anglade. They are working toward improving the facilities at the school through solar power and updating the water system.

Kramer also provided economic opportunities for students and natives of the town. He cultivated a group of farmers that grow ancient Egyptian wheat, kumat, which is exported to the U.S.

Now, he’s trying to help provide a future for Berlinda.

“She’s very positive, she’s a sponge for learning,” he said. “I just want to help this Haitian girl who has had a tragic life story so far, but has kept her joy of life and has determination to improve herself.”

Sixteen-year-old Berlinda from Haiti will be receiving surgery on her two clubbed feet at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Steve Kramer

Amy Miller, of Maine, who has helped Anglade since 2007, said she finds what Kramer is doing admirable.

“I met Berlinda and I really respect his desire to help her move forward,” she said. “You meet someone and they kind of capture your heart, and I think you have to follow your heart. That’s what he’s doing.”

Both said they are also moved by Anglade’s motivation.

“I am tremendously inspired by Lucia,” Miller said. “She’s a force. Lucia is a person that astounds most people that meet her — her energy and her commitment. She loves the kids and it’s wonderful to watch. The community once said she should be their mayor after she brought water to the school she also to the community. She’s quite something.”

Anglade said she’s just doing what she thinks is right, in giving back to her hometown.

“My four kids here go to school, they’re in college, they eat every day, but in Haiti, we don’t have enough to feed over 400 kids, so sometimes when we’re down there for a week or two, we can only feed them for one week,” Anglade said. “I can’t go every week, but if I could go every week, every month, I’d go, just to help them. For me to be able to go down there to help those students, my community, I’m so happy to do it. I really feel good about it.”

To donate to help get Berlinda to the United States and to receive the care and post-treatment she will need, visit www.gofundme.com/BerlindasMiracle. To find out more about Life and Hope Haiti, or to get involved, visit www.lifeandhopehaiti.org.

The Heritage Trust, a nonprofit, is looking for help in raising funds to repair Heritage Park's playground. File photo by Erika Karp

Heritage Park has some new arrivals.

Following the unveiling of the plant maze and with a splash pad currently in the works, a free book exchange program has landed at the Mount Sinai square.

The Little Free Library, a free book exchange, is located near the playground, alongside the shack at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Fred Drewes

The park’s newest addition — Little Free Library — can be found next to the shack concession stand, which sits alongside the playground on the west side of the park. A nonprofit organization, Little Free Library inspires a love of reading and builds community relationships by fostering neighborhood book exchanges. According to the U.S. Department of Education, up to 61 percent of low-income families do not have access to books for their children at home, and the organization hopes to increase that access for readers of all ages and backgrounds. The books, which can be borrowed or swapped, are located in a red, house-shaped box on a post in front of a large rock near the shack at the Wedge.

Heritage Trust, the nonprofit that runs the park and the Heritage Center, is also working on enhancing the playground. Repairing and improving the park is a priority for the organization, with the playground being one of the most-used features at the Wedge. With much of the fundraising being weather dependent, the trust has had a difficult time keeping up with events while finding the funds needed to fix sections of the playground. Currently, pieces of the playground have been closed for use, and with the repairs costing more than the trust anticipates — about $7,000 — the nonprofit is looking for the community’s help.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help the trust come up with the money to make repairs.

“Our children in the community really love Heritage Park,” the trust wrote on the GoFundMe page. “The playground gets lots of use, but the repairs are costly. We remain dedicated to maintaining and improving our park for everyone who wants a safe place to enjoy the open spaces and participate in community activities.”

To contribute to Heritage Trust’s fundraising efforts, visit www.gofundme.com/heritageplayground.

Mount Sinai anesthesiologist Richard Melucci, below, drowned in the Long Island Sound, scene above, after falling overboard off his 25-foot boat April 15. Photo from Facebook

A Mount Sinai anesthesiologist has died after falling off a boat in the Long Island Sound April 15.

Milford Fire Rescue received a 911 call from a woman saying her husband, Richard Melucci, 43, had fallen overboard as they were boating on the Sound near Milford, Connecticut at about 6 p.m. Melucci’s wife, Maryann, was below the deck when she heard the splash, police said.

Richard Melucci. Photo from O.B. Davis Funeral Homes

Police say Melucci, a 1991 Ward Melville graduate, was not wearing a life jacket when he fell into the water, so his wife attempted to throw a life ring out several times without success, according to Captain Kieth Williams of the Connecticut State Police Department.

Milford’s dive team and the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the scene and rescued Melucci from the water about 55 minutes later, authorities said. Melucci and his wife were taken to Milford Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

An avid boater, Melucci worked at Long Island Anesthesia Physicians in Rocky Point and was affiliated with John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. He was on his new 25-foot vessel, which was taken to Milford Landing, where authorities are conducting a full investigation.

Reposing took place at O.B. Davis Funeral Homes, 4839 Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station. Visitation was help April 19, and will be held today, April 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Funeral Mass will be help April 21 at 10 a.m. at the Chapel at St. Charles in Port Jefferson. Interment to follow at Washington Memorial Park in Mount Sinai. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Rick Melucci Family Fund at https://www.gofundme.com/rick-melucci-family-fund. As of press time, after two days, the GoFundMe raised $76,425 of the $100,000 goal.

Yakub Gangat donated $1,000 to the fund, and left the message: “An outstanding clinician and leader. Fun loving with infectious personality. He’ll be forever missed.”

Jennifer Bednar, who donated $100, also said he will not soon be forgotten.

“A devastating loss,” she wrote. “I will miss that infectious smile. My whole heart goes out to Maryanne and family.”

Teresa Schully Habacker left a similar sentiment with her $200 contribution: “What a loss for the medical community. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. I will miss his competent care and his great sense of humor.”

Olivia Hiz at the University of Alabama. Photo from Melissa Rosman

It’s been two weeks since Mount Sinai graduate Olivia Hiz was found unresponsive in her University of Alabama dorm room and put on life support. And while her family has been on pins and needles every day, the generosity of close friends, community members and total strangers are helping to keep their spirits up.

A GoFundMe page to support medical expenses and rehabilitation for Hiz was set up April 6 by her cousins a week after the 18-year-old college freshman was rushed to DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, March 29.

After hours of testing, doctors diagnosed her with streptococcal pneumonia infection, which ultimately led to viral encephalitis, a severe swelling of the brain.

Olivia Hiz, at center, with her mother Lisa and father John. Photo from Melissa Rosman

Just a few days before her collapse, Hiz was at home in Mount Sinai and visited the doctor to get some sinus symptoms checked. Once she was evaluated and returned to school, her symptoms escalated.

She has since been transported to University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham for treatment, where she’s currently relying on a respirator. The family said although she’s still not able to communicate verbally, she’s displayed slight cognitive ability by opening her eyes and moving her hands.

According to Hiz’s cousin Melissa Rosman, who posted the online fundraiser, the close-knit family of uncles, aunts and cousins decided quickly that a page should be made to help ease the burden of  parents John and Lisa Hiz.

Considering the serious clinical situation, the family realized this could be a long haul for Olivia Hiz and her parents.

“The treatment Olivia’s receiving right now — the ventilator, all her tests, MRIs — is very expensive and they don’t know at the moment what will be covered by medical insurance and what won’t be,” she said. “Everyone in the family, of course, is devastated … [but] we’re being cautiously optimistic that she’ll wake up soon. Olivia is very caring, has a huge heart and she’ll always help everyone in need, which is why I’m so grateful people are helping her when she needs it most.”

“We’re just a very close family and when one gets cut, the other bleeds. This has been a difficult time for everybody.”

—John Rosman

In just six days, the GoFundMe reached $31, 275 of a $50,000 goal from a total of 331 people, ranging from family friends to Mount Sinai-Miller Place community members to complete strangers. Individual contributions range from $5 to $1,915.

“We are just so grateful for all the love and support we’ve received,” Rosman said. “It’s been so incredible and everyone has been generous and caring through everything.”

Annmarie Farris, with a donation of $50, wrote on the page, “From one Alabama freshman mom to another, I am praying for you and your family.”

Jodie Schreck, a Mount Sinai math teacher, with a donation of $100, wrote, “Liv, Miss Schreck loves you … our hopes and prayers are with you and your family, awaiting to see your sweet smile.”

Hiz’s parents, who have been in the hospital at their daughter’s side every day, expressed gratitude for the generosity of those reaching out.

“John and I are just blown away by it; it just amazes me how many people care for her,” Lisa Hiz said. “I feel very blessed that people have gone out of their way, reached into their pockets and opened up their hearts to John and I … we are so touched by everyone’s support and the messages we’ve received.”

Olivia Hizat the 2016 Universal Cheerleaders Association national championship. Photo from Melissa Rosman

John Hiz said it’s comforting to know they can lean on their community for support.

“This basically confirms just how great our area is,” he said. “When there’s a crisis, the community comes together and supports its members and families … because we all grew up together. This is going to be an extremely long road to recovery, [but] we’re hanging in there.”

The former Mount Sinai varsity cheerleader, who won the 2016 Universal Cheerleaders Association national championship, is a human environmental sciences major at the university and made the Dean’s List during her first semester with a GPA higher than 3.5.

Michael Rosman, Olivia Hiz’s uncle, said his niece is special.

“Olivia’s very outgoing and always the life of the party,” he said. “You always know when she’s in the room. She makes everybody laugh.”

John Rosman, her other uncle, who was at her bedside the first few days of her hospital stay, said the only thing he wants is for Hiz to be able to go home with her parents.

“We’re just a very close family and when one gets cut, the other bleeds,” he said. “This has been a difficult time for everybody and it’s just something you don’t expect to happen. Olivia’s parents have the support of family, the support of friends and the support of community.”

To donate to the GoFundMe page, visit www.gofundme.com/oliviahiz.

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