Lisa Ferreyra remembers when the problem started, sitting on the couch next to her husband, John, in 2004.
“He had this crazy cough. I said, ‘We’ve got to get that checked out,’” she said.
On April 1 of that year they paused outside the doctor’s office where they had come for a diagnosis. She asked John for a moment. They kissed.
“Once we cross that threshold, our lives will be different,” Lisa remembered saying.
Ferreyra, then 44, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, “on April Fool’s Day, no less,” he said.
He began chemotherapy at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan 18 months later to treat the tumors that were growing in his abdomen.
In 2010, Ferreyra noticed he was feeling full after eating small amounts of food. Tests revealed a tumor strangling his small intestine. He had surgery to remove the growth – and the affected portion of his intestinal tract – and spent the next two months in the hospital with a feeding tube. He lost 60 pounds and his hair.
Ferreyra is a former Manhattan Traffic Task Force officer and a first responder on 9/11. He was helping people to safety and administering first aid within a few blocks of the towers when he heard each one “crack” and saw them fall.
“I saw the cloud coming toward me. I had just enough time to turn away to the south, and I felt the pressure push me but I didn’t lose my footing. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face,” he remembered.
He spent the next two months working in and around Ground Zero in the midst of that lingering cloud.
“It’s hard to get any physicians to say definitively that that was the cause,” Ferreyra said of his cancer, but similar diagnoses in other officers he knew personally, some of whom have passed away, leads Ferreyra to suspect that it was the air pollution that caused his condition – despite government assertions at the time that the air was safe to breathe.
Ferreyra was approved for disability benefits in 2007 under a state law presuming any diseases found in responders to be related to their work at Ground Zero. He left his job as a bus driver for the Kings Park school district, which he had held since retiring from the police force in 2005.
After several rounds of post-surgery chemotherapy “worked but didn’t take,” Ferreyre said his doctors told him he had a five percent chance of survival without a bone marrow transplant.
His brother, a North Carolina police officer, would have been the best match candidate but is not eligible because he contracted hepatitis C when he was bitten by a suspect in 2002. Ferreyra’s chances for a match are limited by his ethnicity, as he is of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent.
In honor of Ferreyra, Kings Park High School’s Parent Faculty Organization donated the proceeds of its Oct. 21 bonfire barbecue to help offset the costs of a bone marrow registry drive being held at the school on Friday, Nov. 4.
Ferreyra and his wife, who have two daughters in the district and have always been involved with school functions, said they have received “incredible” support from their family, friends and community. John Feal, founder of the Feal Good Foundation, a group that advocates for 9/11 first responders, handed a check to Ferreyra as he deejayed the barbecue. Ferreyra’s voice caught and his eyes went wet as he thanked Feal for the work his organization has done.
“Being a friend is to give, but it’s also knowing when to receive,” Lisa said. She said her husband deserves all of it. “Such a decent soul. Such a loving man.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation can send it to Judy Bishop, Kings Park School District, 180 Lawrence Road, Room 208, Kings Park, NY 11754. Please make checks out to Friends of Kings Park.
For further information, contact Judy Bishop at 269-3311.