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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Local Family Braves Leukemia Challenge Together

Local Family Braves Leukemia Challenge Together:
Bone marrow drive Thursday, Aug. 11, 4:30pm-7:30pm, at Hagaman Memorial Library, 227 Main St., East Haven, seeks match
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 8/10)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Wallingford, CT – It was an early February day – February 10, 2011, to be precise – and sixty-year-old Frank Iaccarino was on the job as a cable repair tech for AT&T. Just after 12:30, he touched base by phone with his wife of 38 years, Joan, mentioning that he was feeling better after complaining of tiredness and a headache the night before. However, an hour later, a co-worker on a job site walked over to his truck, where he had retreated to enjoy some lunch, and found him passed out. An ambulance rushed Frank to Mid-State Hospital in Meriden, where he was treated in the ER and admitted overnight. Joan, 61, and the couple’s twenty-three-year-old son, Matthew, joined him there. All thought he’d had a mild stroke.

Matthew and Joan left the hospital at 11:15pm, and returned to the family’s Wallingford home. At 12:30am, the hospital reached out by phone to say Frank was having a heart seizure and they were transporting him by LifeStar helicopter to Hartford Hospital. Matthew and Joan met them at the facility by car. Other complications revealed themselves and, over the course of a few days, multiple doctors determined that Frank had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), essentially cancer of the blood. 

“This came out of the blue for us,” Joan said, shocked by the diagnosis. Chemotherapy was the treatment advised. The family opted to bring him to Smilow Cancer Center, a part of Yale University, in New Haven.

Treatment began mid-February: two chemotherapy drugs per day for seven days. A bone marrow biopsy was then performed, to determine if the treatment had been effective. Frank’s cancer was found to be in remission.

“We did not feel exclusive with our situation, as there are so many other people in similar situations and facing dire challenges,” Joan said. “Still, we were thankful for that good news and cried tears of joy.”

Despite the news, Frank was kept in the hospital for observation “for a bit longer.” He came home, but had to go back in for another two weeks for a second, then a third, round of chemo, to be absolutely sure the disease had been eliminated.

Currently, Frank is scheduled to go for a fourth round of chemo, in approximately a month, according to Joan. “Because he seems to be doing well physically and bringing his good blood counts up, doctors will be doing a bone marrow transplant. We understand this is precautionary,” said Joah.

Frank is listed with a national organization called Be the Match, which is a bone marrow registry.  As of now, there is no match for him, so Joan, with the support of the Rhode Island Blood Center, has been holding drives to try and locate a match.

“We’ve done eight drives thus far, with the first held June 11 at North Haven Library, attracting 100 people,” Joan said. Explaining the process, she added, “People fill out a health questionnaire, then have the inside of their cheek swabbed. The swab is sent to a lab for testing to see if there’s a match. We’ve had several hundred potential donors come forward. Because no match has been determined yet, we continue to hold drives.”

Requirements of potential bone marrow donors include being between the ages of 18 and 60, and meeting certain medical guidelines. “You can’t be diabetic or taking insulin; you can’t have had any recent back surgery, or any past instance of cancer,” said Joan. “And it takes just 15 minutes to do the paperwork and for a swab to be collected.”

Joan mentioned that there’s an organization in Fall River, MA, called Michael’s Fund, which has been paying for the testing. “Normally, it cost $100 for a person to join the registry,” said Joan. “Because of their fundraising, the test is free.”

Governor Malloy recently signed a bill requiring individual and group health insurance providers to ensure coverage for bone marrow testing – it goes into effect in January 2012. To this regard, Joan said, “If we are still holding drives early next year, this will help the process.”

Thinking about all that has transpired, Joan remarked, “This has been a difficult time for our family. We have so much support from family and friends to help us get through things. We’ve been very prayerful and optimistic, and hope for the best.”

Joan added, “While these bone marrow drives have been first focused on Frank, they will ultimately help benefit many other cancer patients seeking a match, so there are benefits far beyond our situation. The Rhode Island Blood Center uses a memorable phrase: ‘You have the power to heal, the power to save a life. Take the first step, join the Registry.’ We truly believe in this as well, while taking life a day at a time.”

To join the Be the Match Registry:  or 1-800-MARROW-2.  If you are unable to make a drive, you will be instructed on how to help in your specific area.

En Garde!!

En Garde!!
Fairfield Fencing Academy opens in Sportsplex complex
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – “This is a dream that I didn’t really know I had,” said thirty-four-year-old John Tejada, the owner of Fairfield Fencing Academy, which opened its doors to the public Saturday in the Sportsplex complex at 85 Mill Plain Road.

The 4,900-square-foot  warehouse-style facility features four World Cup metallic strips – essentially 17-yard long competition alleys. Area residents, including First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who dropped in mid-afternoon to wish Tejada good luck, were invited to experience the facility at no charge, learn about the various available programs and go head-to-head in competition with staff members.

This correspondent took advantage of that offer, suiting up in a mask, glove, thick jacket, metallic vest and mask – along with a foil, or dueling sword, of course. Within each competitor’s outfit, an electric cord is integrated, which hooks to a “reel” that in turn connects to a scoring mechanism with digital readout at the midpoint of each metallic competition alley.

As Tejada’s colleagues and students, several financial backers and the curious streamed in to offer their congratulations, I stepped to the strip to face my opponent, Sarah Bruhl, one of Tejada’s facility counselors. Though she was dimunitive in comparison to my six-foot tall frame, she had five years of training experience. I employed some psychology to try and unsettle her: “You’re going down,” I declared repeatedly.

I would have been highly fortunate to have realized that outcome it turns out, as the numbers on the score display started to spin in her favor. Ultimately, I was able to register just one hit on her, to her 10 on me. I walked from the mat, surprisingly winded and quite sweaty, with resolve to do better the next go round. For now, though, it was more important to capture some background on Tejada.

Born in Brooklyn, the academy owner played basketball in elementary school, and did fencing and swimming in high school, starting in 6th grade. In college at Notre Dame, Tejada fenced all four years, making All-Midwest Conference Foil Squad MVP.

After graduating ND in 1998, he married. Coincidentally, his wife’s sister fenced for a high school team, in Franklin Lakes, NJ. “We went to watch her in a tournament and I started to help her and her team out,” he said. The following year, he was made head coach. In all, he stayed with the school for four years. The first year, under Tejada, the team went 15-1, versus the previous year record of 1-15. In all, the team went 52-5 under Tejada’s tenure, and won four straight district championships, two county championships and a state title. Tejada was also named Coach of the Year four times (twice by the Bergen Record, once by the Newark Star Ledger and once by the New Jersey Coaching Association). In 2010, the Bergen Record named him Coach of the Decade.

While the coaching was a passion, it didn’t pay all the bills. To supplement his income, Tejada worked in television entertainment in NY, for ABC, and for ESPN as an assignment editor.

His first marriage was a false start that ended in 2001. He was fortunate to find a new mate, whom he married July 4, 2009. The couple has a son, Charles, now nine months old.

Tejada was let go from ESPN in July 2010, as his new wife was about to give birth. “I felt screwed,” he said about that time. Fortunately, he was doing some coaching at Wakeman Boys and Girls Club in Southport, from which he was able to springboard into Fairfield’s two high schools as coach of their fencing teams. The past year was a great one, in which the teams finished second and third in the state in men’s and women’s epee. The program was also named #1 in the state for that weapon category.

As Tejada achieved the school successes, he was approached by developer Ken Kleban, to open a club in Wilton. He was all set to do it, then opted not to. “I really wanted to open my own place,” Tejada said.

That wish came true with the backing of John Convertito, Jim Mecca, Beth Love, Mark McGinty, Ken Betza and Cindy Bartoloni – basically all parents of his high school fencing team students and all Fairfielders – who provided financial support.

Together, they contracted for the Sportsplex space in March 2011, thanks to developer Hal Fischel and John Convertito. Renovations on the space started in April and really didn’t finish until this past week.

Tejada is clearly the right man for the job, as students will attest. “I’ve fenced for two years – one of those years under John,” said Alexandra Morrison, 15, at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. “The first year at school, I didn’t have good coaching. When John came in, he really knew what he was talking about and had the experience. He has really made me appreciate the sport and I’ve improved a lot.”

At the same time, students expressed their great delight in having this new facility. “The school was limiting in terms of times we could practice,” said Morrison.

“Fencing is one of those sports you can do all the time,” reflected Tejada. “Old, young, slow, anyone can have fun doing this sport,” he said. “It’s physical chess. The tactics and athletic ability required combines everything from other sports I’ve learned.”

The Fairfield Fencing Academy is open six days a week, Monday through Saturday, from 11am to 9pm. The Academy will accommodate walk-ins and offers camps, classes, private lessons and birthday parties. It is located at 85 Mill Plain Road. Phone: 203-824-1514. On the Net: www.FairfieldFencingAcademy. com