Thursday, October 21, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Searching for a Match: STARS Hosts Bone Marrow Drive

By Eric Yun

Philip Felice is depending on the kindness of strangers to save his life. In 2007, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and was successfully treated through a combination of chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. Unfortunately, in February Philip’s lymphoma returned, and his only hope for survival might be a bone marrow transplant from a stranger.

Blood cancers like lymphoma affect over 100,000 people a year, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The society estimates that 54,020 people in the United States will die because of blood cancers.

A stem cell transplant is an important treatment for those suffering from blood cancers like Philip’s. The procedure helps restore the patient’s marrow, which can become damaged because of the disease and radiation treatment. Finding a tissue match for a bone marrow transplant is difficult; siblings only have a 25 percent chance of becoming a donor.

The largest bone marrow center in the world, DKMS, hopes to save thousands of lives by bringing awareness and registering people as bone marrow donors. To date, DKMS has recruited more than 2 million bone marrow donors.

With the help of DKMS, Frances Scarantino, director of Howard Beach’s Reach for the STARS, held a bone marrow drive to save Philip and others lives.

“I was contacted by the Borough President’s office [about the program], and I was more than happy to donate the space and volunteer,” Scarantino said.

Phillip’s wife Theresa has been working endlessly to get bone marrow donors. While she obviously would love to find a match for her husband, “It’s not just for Philip,” she said. The drive at Howard Beach was the sixth drive she’s attended. On Columbus Day, Theresa was on the streets of Manhattan during the parade and recruited more than 90 donors.

Theresa believes if people were more educated about the transplant process, they would be more willing to register as donors. “People are afraid of needles, but it’s a simple blood transfusion now,” she said. Instead of the old process of extracting cells from the pelvic bone, bone marrow can now be ex- tracted from a blood transfer. Patients take pills before the extraction to increase their blood cell count and blood is taken in a simple outpatient procedure.

Residents of Howard Beach were more then happy to help out. “If I can help someone I will,” Lance Oseff said.

William Montalvo has wanted to register as a donor for some time. “My wife’s coworker needed one [a bone marrow transplant] as well, and he was successful,” Montalvo said.

Philip and Theresa have been taken back by the kindness and compassion showed by strangers.
“If I don’t make it, I’ve made a whole lot of new friends,” Philip said.

To register as a bone marrow donor or to make a financial contribution to DKMS, visit

Addabbo Helps "Feed The Children"

By Eric Yun

Many families are going hungry because of the economic downturn. The unemployment rate in Queens is 8.6 percent, and according to 2008 statistics, 12 percent of Queens residents live in poverty. Children and senior citizens are the most affected; 16.7 percent of people under 18 live in poverty and 12.8 percent of people over 65 live in poverty.

Feed The Children is a non-profit organization that delivers food, medicine, clothing and other necessities to those in need due to famine, war, poverty or natural disaster.

As part of Feed The Children’s Americans Feeding Americans Caravan, families in need receive food and other essentials. Each family was given a 25-pound box of food, a 10- pound box of personal care items such as toothbrushes and soap and a box of Avon products.

Dawn Puricelli, Head of Product Line Control with Avon North America, said the Avon boxes were provided to help empower women and give them self-confidence.

For the New York City events, Feed The Children teamed up with Rep. Charles Rangel and distributed boxes for 2,800 families in Harlem. In Queens, Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) hosted the event to help 1,200 families at the George Seuffert Sr. Band Shell.

Addabbo worked closely with local food pantries and soup kitchens like the Ridgewood Older Adult Center and the Elohim Community Development Center in Richmond Hill to identify families in need and distribute the 1,200 vouchers needed to receive food from the event.

Tony Sellars, Director of Communications at Feed The Children, said it was essential that local agencies work as the “foot soldiers” to identify those in need. The local agencies have an intimate knowledge of the area, allowing them to eliminate the guesswork of who should receive support.

Sellars stressed that hunger is not confined to just one region or ethnicity. Hunger is a “border to border and coast to coast” problem. “It’s up to us as individuals and as a community to help,” said Sellars.

According to Addabbo, there has been a 106 percent increase in meals served since 2006, and there are more than 80,000 households unable to get food. Addabbo said he was glad to sponsor the event to “raise awareness of people in need,” and to “do what we can to help people.”

Raising awareness to the hunger problem is one of the major philosophies of Feed The Children. There is often shame associated with living in poverty, and Sellars and Addabbo want those in need to understand it is okay to ask for help.

There were volunteers from many local areas including students from P.S. 254 in Richmond Hill. The kids helped hand out boxes to the families in need.

“We were talking about giving back to the community,” said Naomi Drouillard, Principal of P.S. 254. “We wanted the children to experience giving back. It’s something they’ll never forget.”

Including the New York City event, Feed The Children has helped close to 160,000 families in need throughout the country. The goal by the end of the year is to feed 200,000 families.

Slater Reaches Deal in JetBlue Criminal Charges

Steven Slater, the flight attendant who gained widespread attention after quitting his job with JetBlue in dramatic fashion in August, has struck a deal with his former employer that will allow him to avoid jail time.

Slater, who exited JetBlue Flight 1052 through the plane’s emergency escape slide after it landed at JFK Airport, pleaded guilty this week to second-degree criminal mischief. He will also enroll for a minimum of twelve months in the mental health alternative sentencing program. He will also pay the airline $10,000 in restitution.

A flight attendant for JetBlue at the time of the incident, Slater claimed he argued with a passenger before deciding to dramatically exit the plane down the emergency slide. He was later found at his boyfriend’s house in Belle Harbor.

Authorities argue that Slater’s actions could have proved deadly. The emergency escape slide deploys at a force of 3,000 pounds per square inch. If the slide had hit any of the workers below the plane, serious injury or death might have occurred.

The defendant conditionally pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree criminal mischief and attempted forth-degree criminal mischief. He was conditionally sentenced to one to three years of incarceration. However, as part of his plea agreement, Slater will enroll in the District Attorney’s mental health alternative sentencing program and reimburse the estimated cost of replacing or repairing the escape chute, among other expenses.

The Queens Mental Health Court (QMHC) is a special part of the Queens County Supreme Court. It provides a court-supervised program for those arrested in Queens who have mental health-related issues, who need treatment and other services and who choose to participate in the court program instead of having their cases proceed through the regular court process. The program lasts for at least one year after an individual enters a guilty plea in QMHC.

Each QMHC participant is assigned a case manager who prepares an individualized treatment plan and monitors that individual’s participation and progress for the court. The treatment plan may include such things as medication, regular appointments with a psychiatrist and participation in an alcohol or substance abuse treatment program.

If the defendant successfully completes the treatment plan prepared for him, he will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to the felony charge and will be sentenced to one year’ probation on the misdemeanor charge.

“I believe that the defendant finally has recognized the seriousness of his actions and is willing to accept responsibility,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “Under the circumstances, today’s disposition,.. fairly balances the seriousness of the charges against the need for the defendant’s rehabilitation.”

Slater’s guilty plea was not his only problem that day. While he was pleading guilty in court, his partner’s brother, Jonathan Rochelle, allegedly broke into Slater’s Belle Harbor home knowing he would not be home. If convicted, Rochelle faces up to 15 years in prison.

Residents Favor Fancier Options for New Kosciuszko Bridge

By Eric Yun

Queens and Brooklyn residents would prefer the new design of the Kosciuszko Bridge to look amazing and help define their neighborhoods. The state Department of Transportation (DOT) has been working to replace the bridge, which carries traffic over Newtown Creek on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and in February held public hearings to discuss possible designs.

The DOT recently released the public feedback to the bridge designs, and the cable-stayed option received 53 of the 121 total votes. Coming in second was the through arch design with 37 votes.
The comments the DOT received about the cable-stayed bridge focused on creating an iconic image to New York City’s skyline. “We need a modern look in our city, plus it will be something you can seen from a distance,” one commenter wrote.

Another commenter wrote, “The design looks rich and complements the Newton Creek Water Pollution Control Plant digesters, which are also becoming an attraction.”

However, there are some concerns that the cable-stayed distinctive look does not outweigh potential increased costs. The DOT said all construction costs are similar and the difference is only plus or minus four percent. The cable-stayed design would require replacement cables.

The cost concerns led some residents to gravitate to the through arch design. The bridge is “elegant but a lot less expensive than cable-stayed bridge,” one commenter wrote.

Adam Levine, Director of Public Affairs for the state DOT, said no final decision has been made on the bridge’s design. The decision will likely be made later this year or early next year, and construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2014. The bridge should be finished in 2020.

City to Receive Federal Funds for Storm Cleanup

There are still dangerous hanging limbs, cracked sidewalks and trees to be replanted, but New York City won’t have to worry about restoring the damage from the September 16 tornadoes out of its own pockets. Governor David Paterson announced last Thursday that President Obama declared the city a federal disaster area.

Last month’s storms left thousands without power and knocked down hundreds of trees, especially in Middle Village and Forest Hills where straight-line winds of over 100 miles per hour tore through the neighborhoods. Tornados were also reported near Flushing, parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island.

After the storm, state Office of Emergency Management (OEM) officials conducted a detailed assessment of damages with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials. The assessment led to Paterson declaring parts of the city as a disaster area, and now, the federal government agrees.
“[The assessments] demonstrated a strong need for federal assistance,” said Andrew Feeny, Director of State OEM. “Now, we will work closely with FEMA to ensure that the city and its citizens receive all eligible federal aid.”

The federal disaster designation makes the city eligible for funds from FEMA.
Overall, damage and cleanup estimates from state, federal and local officials totaled over $27 million. The federal disaster designation provides 75 percent reimbursement to the city for the costs of response, debris removal and repairs to public property.

“The storm that spawned two tornadoes wreaked a path of devastation the likes of which New York City hasn’t seen in 25 years,” said Governor Paterson. “I thank the President, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and our Congressional Delegation for ensuring New York receives the assistance it so desperately needs.”

Governor Paterson also requested funds from the Individual Assistance program, which would provide homeowners, renters and businesses relief for private property damage. FEMA has not made a designation on the Individual Assistance program, but additional designations may be made at a later date.

Even without Individual Assistance, FEMA’s help will certainly help the city with its ongo- ing cleanup efforts. Everyone understands that there is still plenty of work to do.

Speaking about the federal funds, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) said, “Providing this much-needed assistance to the city was the right move. We still have more work to do before the mess is finally clean, but this will help.”