Neighbors, friends rally for boro family

Oct. 4-5 garage sale to benefit boy, 3, fighting leukemia


Jason D'Angelo Jason D’Angelo HELMETTA — While summer is typically a time of fun and relaxation, for the D’Angelo family it proved to be anything but.

Jason D’Angelo, 3, endured ongoing pain and seemingly endless medical tests before he was diagnosed in July with acute myelomonocytic leukemia, a form of acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Since then, relatives, friends and neighbors of the Helmetta family have pulled together to help ensure that Jason’s story has a happy ending.

“Of course, you never think something bad is going to happen to you or your family,” Jason’s mother Lauren said. “It’s scary.”

During the last week of May, Jason began having bad pains in his legs. Repeated visits to his pediatrician yielded no answers, and when the pain became so intense that he could not walk, Lauren and her husband Thom took Jason to the emergency room at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Doctors there admitted Jason, performing X-rays and bone marrow tests that showed no abnormalities. Blood tests yielded results that raised some concerns, but after doctors could not pinpoint the problem, they sent Jason home.

Additional cause for concern arose soon after, when Jason’s eyes became puffy and bulging. Though his eye doctor could not identify the source of the problem, Jason’s condition alarmed him enough to send the youngster for a CAT scan. Those results, like the other tests, showed nothing definitive, and the problem got progressively worse.

“His eyes, both of them looked like golf balls,” Lauren said. “There was a point when you would not even know it was him.”

Early in July, Jason was showing flagging energy levels, and appeared pale. Lauren and Thom once again brought him to the doctor, and he was again admitted to the hospital. After more tests, including a bone marrow biopsy, doctors diagnosed Jason with AML July 17. Chemotherapy treatments began immediately.

In AML patients, abnormal cells produce rapidly and accumulate in the bone marrow. Since AML is a fastmoving cancer that can prove fatal within weeks or months if left unchecked, it is crucial for treatment to begin as quickly as possible. A rare disease, AML causes about 1.2 percent of all cancer deaths in the country. Its cause is unknown.

Lauren and Thom found out that the bulging of Jason’s eyes was caused by growing masses behind them. Fortunately, within a week of treatments, they saw a difference in their son.

Jason’s pain has gone away, and he has been able to enjoy the everyday activities of a 3-year-old, like riding his bike and just having fun with friends. Other than having lost his hair from the chemotherapy, Jason looks fine, too, Lauren said.

“It just seems weird that he’s not OK,” Lauren said. “He’s running around like a normal 3-year-old, and it’s like, ‘Why can’t he be OK?’”

Though Jason feels a lot better, a Broviac line, or catheter, in his chest serves as a reminder of his illness, Lauren said. While playing, Jason knows to make sure it does not get disturbed or wet, and Lauren has to dress and flush it regularly.

Due to the risks involved and the aggressive nature of the treatments, Jason is required to stay at the hospital for four to five weeks during therapy. Lauren stays with him, while Thom works as an alarm technician and cares for their 5-year-old daughter Mya during the week, visiting on weekends.

It has not been easy for the family, but others have provided help along the way. Mya began kindergarten earlier this month, and when Lauren cannot be there to see her off to school, she calls from the hospital each morning.

Lauren’s mother, Penny, came from

Florida to spend two months helping the family and caring for Mya. She returned to Florida earlier this month, but Thom’s mother Brenda is able to commute regularly from Staten Island to offer a helping hand. As it turns out, little Mya may prove to be the biggest help of all. Doctors recently discovered that she is a 100 percent match to her brother’s bone marrow, and will therefore be able to provide a transplant. “Not that there are any guarantees, but they feel the bone marrow transplant is his best bet,” Lauren said. Still, the transplant is a

risky procedure, according to Lauren. Complications can arise, and even with a perfect match, the body can reject the transplant, resulting in infections. On the bright side, Jason’s youth will prove helpful, and Mya’s closeness to her brother in age is another plus.

“She knows that she’s his perfect match for something, and she’s going to be able to help him,” Lauren said.

Doctors told Lauren and Thom to make sure Mya knows that Jason’s recovery does not rest solely on her, as she could become traumatized and take on the responsibility if things go awry, Lauren said.

No date has been set for the surgery, but doctors are saying it will occur within the next couple of months. Though the procedure itself only takes about an hour and a half, Jason and Lauren will spend about eight weeks at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

While there are risks involved with any surgery, doctors said Mya should bounce right back after the procedure, possibly suffering from some soreness.

As the family awaits the surgery, the community is banding together to provide whatever help they can.

“We have a lot of friends and family and neighbors,” Lauren said. “We have a good support system.”

Soon after Jason was first diagnosed, the support system became evident, with even some people the family barely knew becoming involved in fundraising.

“I think we both were surprised and touched,” Lauren said.

Though at first it was hard to accept the overwhelming help offered by those around them, Lauren and Thom soon realized they simply could not go it alone.

A group of supporters came together to fund, a Web site to spread the word about Jason and collect donations to help with his growing medical bills. Lauren Rogero and Helmetta Borough Clerk Sandra Bohinski, both neighbors, have teamed up to host two fundraising events.

“It’s a horrible situation,” Rogero said. “They’re great people. They’re just so strong. They’re just very positive and optimistic, which you have to be.”

A garage sale will be held at 5 and 7 Lake Ave. in Helmetta on Oct. 4 and 5, starting at 8 a.m., with all proceeds going to the D’Angelo family. Rogero and Bohinski are soliciting donations to be sold at the sale. Donations can be dropped off at 7 Lake Ave.

The women are also planning a tricky tray event for Nov. 21, the proceeds of which will also go to Jason’s cause. Doors will open at 6 p.m. at the Holy Trinity Parish Center, 100 Main St. The $10 admission fee will include tickets for prizes, with drawings beginning at 7 p.m. The evening will also include refreshments and a 50/50. Donations for prizes are being accepted.

For more information on either event, contact Lauren Rogero at 732-605-0309, or Sandra Bohinski at 732-521-3012. To learn more about Jason or to donate, visit