By Jeanne Sager
LIVINGSTON MANOR January 30, 2004 One of lifes givers needs a hand.
Tom Kelly has been at the beck and call of his community as long as he can remember.
The immediate past chief of the Livingston Manor Fire Department is a 30 year veteran of the fire service, putting in time in both Port Jervis and his hometown of Manor.
He was once a member of the ambulance corps, and hes a familiar face at Manor events.
Hes also the dad of one of the countrys bravest Kellys son, Hugh, 32, is a reservist fighting in the sands of Iraq.
Instead of sitting down with the whole family for Thanksgiving, Kelly received a cell phone call from his son, who could finally let down his guard to tell Dad he just wants to come home.
Kelly thought hed had enough heartache in life. He lost a child several years ago, hes been divorced and helped his fiancée through a bitter custody battle for her children.
Then the real tragedy struck.
On January 7, Kelly was helping his disabled fiancée, Kit Coney, out of the shower when he felt a searing pain shoot through his shoulder.
Assuming it was an old injury acting up again, Kelly thought nothing of it.
He got in his Dodge Caravan and drove up Route 17 to his job at CarQuest in Liberty.
By the time I got to work, the pain was so severe . . . Kelly said.
He turned the car around and met Coney at home.
She took one look at his face and hurried him out the door and up the highway to Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris.
There they diagnosed Kellys problem hed had a heart attack.
One of his arteries was completely blocked, they said.
Kellys 55. Hes not overweight, and he said he has stress in his life, but this wasnt something he ever expected.
It just shows you it can happen to anyone, he said.
Since that day, Kelly hasnt been allowed to do much of anything. Theyve finally allowed him to drive, but he isnt supposed to go back to work, and hes been kept from firefighting duties.
When the whistle went off in Manor and sent trucks screaming to a home on Arts Boulevard, only a few thousand feet from Kellys home, he took a ride down to watch the action just to feel like he was part of what was going on.
I wanted to do something, but I couldnt, he said.
But the hardest thing for Kelly now is figuring out how hes going to pay for all the treatments, medicines and doctors visits resulting from the attack.
He had to drop his health insurance last year when the costs got too high to handle the premium.
That means Kelly is facing more than $40,000 in medical bills out of pocket, not to mention the costs of pills hell probably be on for years to come.
The sad thing is they can send people to Mars, but they cant make health care affordable, Kelly noted. Financially, this set us back.
Its amazing how much they can charge just for a cardiac cath and to have a stent put in.
A bill from one doctor alone is $10,000.
And Kelly and Coney still have to pay for the basics.
Her salary as a teachers aide isnt enough to cover the costs of his bills plus those of the household, and they need to put food on the table for her two children, 6-year-old Ariel and 10-year-old Ian.
The firefighters have rallied around the family, and Kelly is forever grateful.
You grow a bond with these guys, you put your lives in each others hands, and its really great what they do for one another, he said. There are a lot of nice people in this community, and this is the way the firemen are.
But more help is needed. For more information on the Kelly family, call 439-3825.