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North Shore shows support in family’s time of need

Supporters display custom-made #PrayforDan shirts donated by Port Jeff Sports. Photo from Facebook

Helen Keller once said, “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” And in former Comsewogue baseball player Daniel Colasanto’s time of need, the community has come together to be the catalyst for recovery, in mind, body and spirit.

Colasanto suffered significant head trauma after being hit by a car on Route 25A around 1 a.m. on June 16. The 18-year-old received what his father Wayne called “life-saving surgery” at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson before he was transported to Stony Brook Hospital’s trauma center.

“The care that he has received, although a different type of care, has been parallel with the efforts and outpouring of the community,” Wayne Colasanto said of the staff at both hospitals. “You couldn’t ask for more. They’ve been that impressionable.”

Friends and family wait in the hospital lobby. Photo from Facebook
Friends and family wait in the hospital lobby. Photo from Facebook

Following the accident, the family’s pastor, Randy Paige, of Christ Church United Methodist in Port Jefferson Station, held a prayer service for Daniel, who his father said always wakes up with a smile because he finds the good in everything.

“It’s a small church,” Colasanto said. “And there were over 300 people there — there was zero room left. Some of the people included surgeons, people Danny played baseball with 10 years ago, teachers, guidance counselors, an endless amount of family members. There was a potpourri of people from every facet of our life represented at that prayer service. It was truly amazing.”

And that support hasn’t quieted down. It’s still more than noticeable — as the community helped the Colasanto family heal.

Wayne Colasanto said the family has received food, blankets and other things to keep the average 25 kids in the waiting room comfortable, almost entirely from anonymous donors.

“That, to me, speaks volumes,” he said. “I always felt that the gift was in the giving, not the recognition.”

The Port Jefferson Station family has also received donations from local and surrounding community establishments.

Chick-fil-A in Port Jefferson Station has brought in freshly cooked food to the Ronald McDonald Lounge on the 11th floor of the hospital every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. GREEK-TO-GO in Stony Brook has brought a “humongo” Greek salad every day, and Gyro Palace in Rocky Point has also supplied food.

“Seeing the caring spirit in humanity, the general concern of people you don’t even know and how they have leaped into action in support, it’s humbling.”

— Wayne Colasanto

“The people who are donating to our family are feeding everyone up on the 11th floor,” Colasanto said. “The amount of food that’s been donated through friends, other restaurants — if we were having an eating contest at Coney Island on the Fourth of July we couldn’t get through all the food.”

And the donations keep coming.

Colasanto said that every time he goes downstairs to retrieve donations, he’s almost immediately sent back, if not interrupted on his way back upstairs, to collect more donations.

Assistance has also come in other forms.

Zachary Colasanto, one of Daniel’s older brothers, is extremely close with his brother.

“They’ve never had a fight in their life,” Wayne Colasanto said.

The father said that when Daniel was a junior and Zachary a senior, they approached him to ask if they could forego their own bedrooms and purchase a bunk bed to live as they did when they were younger.

“That’s how close they are. But as a parent with some wisdom, I said absolutely not,” Wayne Colasanto said, laughing.

Zachary Colasanto wanted to do something special to show support for his brother, who was a four-year varsity baseball player for the Warriors, and started on varsity as an eighth-grader at The Stony Brook School. Colasanto also played football at Comsewogue, and is currently on the roster as a pitcher at The College of Saint Rose.

Zachary had T-shirts made at Port Jeff Sporting Goods, which have the hashtag #PrayforDan and the No. 42, Daniel’s jersey number, on the back. When Daniel’s eldest brother Michael went to pick up the 50 shirts that Port Jeff Sports helped design and make, they would not accept payment.

“I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude at the fact that Port Jeff Sports was generous enough to donate those shirts,” Zachary Colasanto said. “It is incredible to see the love and support the entire community has been sharing with my family during this very difficult time.”

Wayne Colasanto said Father’s Day was especially difficult, but added it was also a positive reminder.

Former Comsewogue baseball player Daniel Colasanto suffered head trauma after being hit by a car on Route 25A. Photo from Facebook
Former Comsewogue baseball player Daniel Colasanto suffered head trauma after being hit by a car on Route 25A. Photo from Facebook

“It was probably the toughest Father’s Day, but it’s the one that I feel the most blessed about, because of the unity of my family,” he said. “I had to fight his friends to go home on Saturday night before Father’s Day. They literally refused. I told them that they would not outwait me. And before noon, they were all back here the following morning.”

Other area businesses and community members continue to show support. A GoFundMe page was created by a friend, to help raise money for the family: www.gofundme.com/dancolasantosfight. Also, Sundaes in Port Jefferson Station, on Route 112, will be holding a fundraiser on Friday, July 1. The day happens to be Daniel’s 19th birthday. The fundraiser will be held from 5 to 8 p.m., and 20 percent of all sales will be donated.

That constant, and around-the-clock support has opened Wayne Colasanto’s eyes.

“I don’t mean to sound cynical, but it’s almost disbelief,” he said. “I’ve admittedly adopted a cynical look at people in general because of their abrasiveness at times, and after seeing the caring spirit in humanity, the general concern of people you don’t even know and how they have leaped into action in support, it’s humbling. I just feel rejuvenated in my own mind about people in general. I’ll never forget what people have done. You can’t put into words.”

To stay updated on Daniel’s condition, you can visit the Facebook page the family has created, called Daniel Colasanto’s Fight: www.facebook.com/danielcolasantosfight/.

Tracey Budd poses for a photo with her son Kevin Norris, who died of a heroin overdose in 2012. Photo from Tracey Budd

Tracey Budd’s son died of a heroin overdose in September 2012.

One year later, Budd, of Rocky Point, was asked to speak at the North Shore Youth Council. Since then, she’s ended up on a public service announcement, “Not My Child,” that’s shown in high schools and middle schools along the North Shore, aiding her in becoming an advocate for drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation. She also teamed up with another mother, Debbie Longo, of Miller Place, and the two have become advocates for prevention and rehabilitation along the North Shore.

It is because of their hard work and dedication to this issue on Long Island that they are 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers People of the Year.

“I made the decision not to be ashamed of how he passed away,” Budd said about her son. “Just from speaking that one time at North Shore Youth Council, it was so very healing for me, and so many things have come from that and taken me in a direction that I never thought I’d be in, but it seems like it’s my calling.”

Janene Gentile, a drug and alcohol counselor and executive director of the North Shore Youth Council, helped work on that PSA.

“It was very powerful,” she said. “It was walking her through her grief. She has a lot of courage.”

Budd, who is also a member of Families in Support of Treatment, pulled together as much information as she could, and this past October created a Facebook page — North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates — pooling together families from Rocky Point, Miller Place, Mount Sinai and Shoreham-Wading River to spread the word about the rising concern over dangerous drugs, like heroin, growing in popularity across the Island.

“It just seemed that so many people were inboxing me and asking me for help,” she said. “I created the page so we could have a centralized area where we share information, and organize meetings where the group could all meet up. I also organized meetings once a month so we could to teach people about advocacy.”

Having a 12-year-old daughter, Cristina Dimou attended the meetings to begin to gather information on the issue. About one week ago, someone Dimou knows suffered an unexpected overdose, she said. She immediately reached out to Budd asking for guidance.

Debbie Longo speaks at a Dan’s Foundation for Recovery event. Photo from Facebook
Debbie Longo speaks at a Dan’s Foundation for Recovery event. Photo from Facebook

“She gave me three phone numbers telling me who to call for what and even gave me websites of rehabilitation centers,” Dimou said about Budd. “She checks up on me every day, asking me if I’m okay and what’s going on. I don’t know her personally, but she had a sense of urgency and a willingness to help. I think that speaks volumes.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said with Budd’s outspokenness and Longo’s long-standing knowledge of the issue, they’ll be successful in their efforts.

“These women put their energy, their anger, their frustration, their sorrow into something that is helpful to the community,” she said. “I think they’re going to do amazing work.”

Longo has been involved in advocacy across the Island for the last five years, after her son suffered an overdose 10 years ago. Since then, her son has recovered, and currently lives in Del Ray, Florida as a director of marketing for a rehabilitation center called Insight to Recovery.

She said she found sending her son out of state helped him recover, because once he was done with his treatment, he wasn’t going back to seeing the same people he knew when he was using.

But she too has been involved in outreach and drug abuse prevention, aside from being to co-administrator of Budd’s Facebook page.

“I get a call just about every day from a parent saying they have a kid that’s addicted and they don’t know what to do,” she said. “We’re losing kids left and right. We’re losing a generation, is what we’re losing.”

Longo is a part of a 501(c)3 not-for-profit program, Steered Straight, which spreads prevention in schools. Recovered addict Michael DeLeon leads the program.

“You can hear a pin drop in the auditorium, that’s how dynamic of a speaker he is,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many kids come up to us at the end of the program and say, ‘I have a problem.’”

Longo was the chapter coordinator for New York State for a website called The Addict’s Mom, and is currently the head of Before the Petals Fall, Magnolia Addiction Support’s New York chapter. She is a 12-step yoga teacher to recovering addicts, and does post-traumatic stress disorder programs to help those dealing with grief.

After leaving nursing to go into medical marketing for hospitals, Longo said she thought she’d know where to turn when she found out her son was an addict, but said she really didn’t know what to do.

“There was such a bad stigma about addiction that you didn’t want to talk about it — you kind of suffered in silence,” she said. “If I was a nurse and had these contacts and didn’t know what to do, the average mother may have no idea. I’m trying to open the community up to what we have here on the North Shore.”

Tracey Budd holds a picture of her son, Kevin Norris, at a Walk for Hope event. Photo from Tracey Budd
Tracey Budd holds a picture of her son, Kevin Norris, at a Walk for Hope event. Photo from Tracey Budd

Longo has helped mothers like Sheila “Terry” Littler, of Rocky Point, whose son is a second-time recovering heroin addict. Currently, he is three months sober.

Knowing about treatment and where to get help, because it was something that started for her 13 years ago, Littler reached out to Longo for mental support.

“It was nice to have somebody else that’s gone through it to talk to, to know you’re not alone,” Littler said. “But at the same time, it’s sad that I’m not alone.”

When her son relapsed after being four and a half years sober, she reached out to Budd.

“It takes a lot of guts to come out in the open and do this and help people,” she said. “There are a lot of hurting people out there.”

She recently reached out to Longo about a friend of her son, who is a drug user, and the two were calling each other back and forth to find ways to overcome addiction.

“She cared to take the time to help me,” she said. “She spent a whole day doing that with me — that’s dedication right there.”

With the contacts Longo’s made with support centers and prevention agencies and Budd’s relationship with the county after creating the PSA, the two are teaming up to use their resources to form a coalition based on the Facebook page. It was also have the same name.

It’s in its early stages, but the hope is to help spread awareness about prevention through schools. As part of a coalition, Budd said, you can also apply for grants, which she hopes will help fund the spread of their advocacy.

“I felt Tracey was on the same path that I was on,” Longo said. “She is as tenacious as I am in what we’re trying to do.”

Longo said that she and Budd are trying to be vigilantes and have started Narcan training classes, like ones they’ve previously hosted in Miller Place and East Setauket, to continue to help fight the Island’s drug addiction problem. Narcan is a medication that stops opioid overdoses.

“I think together we’re a good team,” Budd said. “To me, you have a choice. You can either dig your head in the sand and be embarrassed that your child is an addict, or you can be proactive and say, ‘Enough of this, let’s help each other.’ When you speak to another parent that’s going through it, there’s a bond that you automatically create. In a way, I feel like my son is right there with me, helping these families. It’s very important to me, and I’m never going to stop doing it.”