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Democrat Photo by Dan Hust

TO REMEMBER: Juan and Doris Gonzalez hold a photo of their son, Luke, who succumbed to cancer recently. They are starting a blood drive in his memory.

Blood Drive Planned In Young Man’s Memory

By Dan Hust
NORTH BRANCH — April 21, 2000 -- One day early last year, 20-year-old Luke Gonzalez came in from playing basketball at his parents’ North Branch home and complained to his mother, Doris, about a lump on his lower left chest.
The avid wrestler and college student and his parents were concerned but not overly worried – yet.
But, shortly, Luke was diagnosed with a form of cancer so rare that only one in one billion people have it at any given time. And as the months of 1999 went by, Luke’s condition worsened.
Chemotherapy treatments, surgeries and extended stays in Westchester Medical Center and New York City hospitals forced the Jeffersonville-Youngsville CS grad to quit school at Linden Wood University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he had been continuing his athletic career as a top-notch wrestler and working towards one day becoming a judge.
But, as his father, Juan, put it, “it was a bad cancer,” and although there were some brief reprieves and always hope, “after August, everything started to blow up again.” One particular tumor on his spine even paralyzed him from the waist down.
And so, despite a team of doctors’ best efforts, cancer overtook Luke’s young body, and he died – sitting in his favorite chair at home – on April 1 of this year.
His funeral brought nearly 200 people to Luke’s home church of St. George’s in Jeffersonville (where he was an altar boy) and to a reception hosted by Mullally’s Pub.
“There was a lot of empathy in the community,” recalled Doris. “They were touched by Luke, by his attitude.
“He’s changed my life,” she added. “I’m less scared of things, just from knowing him.”
Indeed, Luke’s positive outlook on death, his encouragement to other cancer-stricken patients, even his Christian testimony are all things the Gonzalezes and their family and friends remember about Luke.
And that, coupled with the large amount of blood transfusions Luke needed during his battle, is why they feel an upcoming blood drive in his memory is so appropriate.
“Everybody feels that somehow or other, he’s going to keep helping people,” said Doris.
“He was a remarkable young man,” agreed Ralph Tremper, a family friend who – with his wife Pat, Pat and Jill Welsh, John Lennon and Terry Knickerbocker – is coordinating the blood drive.
Calling him a “spark plug,” Tremper got to know Luke through his coaching of the Little League team when Luke was young, and Tremper’s son fast became friends with Luke. And he, like the Gonzalezes, feels Luke is very much alive and well in heaven – and appreciates what the blood drive committee members are trying to do.
“The last six months that Luke lived was because of the blood he received,” acknowledged Juan Gonzalez. “It gave us that time to be with him.”
The drive is planned for Tuesday, May 2, at Jeffersonville-Youngsville School in Jeffersonville from 4:30-8:30 p.m. And while walk-ins are welcome (as long as you have personal ID), appointments are encouraged by calling 292-9216, 482-4686 or 482-4872. The blood will be taken by trained technicians from Hudson Valley Blood Services, and you must be between 17 and 76 years old, be in good health, weigh more than 110 pounds and know your Social Security number to give blood.
(In lieu of blood donations, you can make a financial donation to Hospice of Orange and Sullivan, 800 Stony Brook Court, Newburgh, NY 12550; the American Cancer Society, 6725 Lyons St., P.O. Box 7E, East Syracuse, NY 13057; or to the Bethany Retreat Center, Highland Mills, NY 10930.)
And all three hope the drive will help those in need push on – to not give up even in the face of dire adversity.
“If strength, courage and determination could have done it, he would have wiped the cancer out,” said Doris of Luke. “He did not feel like he was dying.”
Still, the hole his departure left will not ever be filled, said the Gonzalezes, and they are simply living day to day with that.
“I miss touching him, holding him, hugging him,” said Doris.
And after a moment’s reflection to compose his answer, Juan, with tear-filled eyes, simply stated, “He was my son.”

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