Sullivan County Democrat
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JOEY FINN OF Fosterdale nearly died after a brain aneurysm on Columbus Day last year caused him to lose consciousness and crash his car.

Town Gets Together
To Help Finn Family

By Dan Hust
COCHECTON — September 8, 2006 — The shy, quiet boy who always lent a hand, the Boy Scout who taught other Scouts how to fish and build a fire, the grocery shelf stocker who’d guide any and all to the right aisle is now in need of aid himself.
And that’s where the Cochecton Spruce-up Committee comes in.
Long dedicated to keeping the Town of Cochecton looking beautiful, this group of five volunteers has now set its sights on the human heart – and one human’s heart in particular: Joey Finn.
The 17-year-old suffered a brain aneurysm on Columbus Day 2005. Just 16 then with a new car and a four-day-old driver’s license, Joey was on his way home to Fosterdale from work at Peck’s in Jeffersonville.
On the climb up Route 17B just below his New Turnpike Road home, he lost consciousness, and what was already a serious brain injury turned into a life-threatening accident when his car careened off the road and into a tree.
Flipping onto its side, the car came to rest against another tree, crumpling the roof right onto Joey’s head.
Mom Ruth recalled that harrowing afternoon, as emergency workers – many of whom knew the teenager – worked to free Joey from the wreckage and get him to Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris.
From there he was taken to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, where “for weeks, they figured he was not going to survive,” Ruth said.

Long Struggle Ahead

And he very nearly didn’t. In the long months that followed, Joey was taken to the ICU at Westchester and Montefiore hospitals a total of five times – each time struggling with an infection or injury that sought to take his young life.
As late as July, he was at death’s door, fighting to breathe as his lungs filled up with blood following a tracheotomy complication. Doctors at Montefiore worked on him for nearly 5 tense hours.
Yet in the three weeks since, Joey has staged a remarkable turnaround, moving his arms and legs, trying to speak, and responding to others around him at Blythedale Children’s Hospital, a short distance from Westchester.
“The doctors now see healing in the brain,” said Ruth. “Now they’re talking much more positively.”
Joey, said Ruth, recognizes family members, remembers Peck’s, attempts to high-five the therapist and blinks to signal “yes” or “no” when questioned.
“He won’t smile at the pediatrician,” Ruth said with a laugh, “but he does smile at the people he does like!
“I call him twice a day, and they say he knows it’s me because he gets worked up,” she added. “He is now, they would say, at level 5 awareness.”
There are eight levels, she said the doctors have told her, with 1 being the least responsive (basically unconscious) and 8 being the most aware (i.e., what you experience when you’re awake).
He’s also eating a quarter-cup of food a day instead of a teaspoon and a half, she said.
“Even his pediatrician said he had a great week,” remarked Ruth, explaining that the usual “great” comment only applied to a day or two out of the week.
“They just don’t understand how this is possible,” she continued, “but I say that somebody said an extra prayer.”
Indeed, there’s a whole community praying for Joey. Ruth said that even a local Hasidic congregation – mostly summer folk who keep to themselves – has made Joey a part of their daily prayers.
But he’s going to need more than that – a lot more, in financial terms.
Ruth said medical bills have exceeded a whopping $3 million (each ICU trip costs upwards of $750,000), and her health insurance company has a cap of $5 million.
Though it’s now reconsidering its position, Medicaid initially rejected the family because Joey is under 18 and thus Ruth, husband Bob and their 14-year-old son James’ possessions are considered Joey’s “assets” as well, inflating his financial standing and pushing him out of eligibility.
“They said we could sell our two cars,” stated Ruth with obvious disgust.
Ruth depends on one of those cars to get her back and forth to Monticello, where she’s Sullivan County Elections Commissioner Tim Hill’s senior clerk. Bob depends on the other to run errands and spend three days a week with Joey.
Bob, who recently suffered a small heart attack, has been disabled for 15 years, so the family has long struggled to meet bills – and even with insurance, Ruth said she’s got a shoebox full of thousands of dollars’ worth of unpaid copayments.
“You need to be a billionaire or a bum,” she wryly observed of the cost of healthcare.
Ruth took a six-month leave of absence earlier this year (thanks to generous coworkers at the county government center, who donated their accrued vacation and personal time), and she still leaves work Friday afternoon to spend the evening and all of Saturday with Joey, but the demands of a household – financial and everything else – mean she can’t afford to give up any more time.
“Somebody’s got to clean the house, y’know?” she said with a tired chuckle.
Somebody also has to build an addition to the house to accommodate Joey’s wheelchair and other needs – and that’s not counting the handicapped-accessible van he’ll require.
And that’s after his coming stay at Achieve in Liberty, where he’ll possibly move in November and stay until his home is ready for him next spring or summer.
“We’re going to be tapped out financially,” Ruth said.

Help On The Way

Enter the Cochecton Spruce-up Committee, which got wind of Joey’s predicament months ago.
President (and Finn family friend) Pauline Johnson and members Jerry Yavarkovsky, Delores Manaseri, Edna Calkins and Sandy Molusky decided to revive the semi-defunct organization to try once more to enhance their home township – and benefit a young man who had helped them plant flowers in Lake Huntington not so long ago.
Using the non-profit status of the committee, they got permission from the state to hold a fund-raiser for Joey and his family, with all donations tax-deductible.
They settled upon a raffle with a $500 grand prize and set about sending letters and selling tickets at Wal-Mart and the Callicoon Farmers’ Market.
“We have a very small but hardworking committee,” remarked Yavarkovsky, who math-tutored Joey and his brother James.
They’ve already raised more than $1,400 but are aiming for $10,000, offering everything from weekends at Woodloch Pines and Frost Valley to dinners, golf packages and savings bonds through the $2 raffle tickets ($5 for three).
Winners will be announced at a free pizza party at Paesano Pizza in Lake Huntington from 2-5 p.m. on November 11. You don’t need to be present to win, but you can pretty much count on seeing the Finn family there, if only to thank the committee and the community.
“They are a magnificent group of people,” remarked a grateful Ruth. “I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Ruth said the community’s generosity has gone beyond Joey, with Calkins getting a DEC camp scholarship (through the Sullivan County Sportsmen’s Federation) for James and two of his friends – a way, she said, to help the 14-year-old cope with so much difficulty.

Giving Thanks

“The support has been wonderful,” Ruth affirmed. “The whole county, in one way or another, has tried to do for my son. . . . I could not see myself ever moving away from this community.”
It’s the place where she intends to continue raising her sons – and one day to proudly watch as Joey completes his high school education, maybe even goes back to BOCES for his love of auto repair.
“Peck’s is holding his job for him,” she related, confident that it is not a gesture in vain.
“He’s not confused like a lot of [similar] patients are,” she pointed out. “The nurses say a patient like him is a puzzle, and all the pieces are coming back together.”
As an example, she spoke of longtime Sullivan West (and predecessor Jeff-Youngsville) teacher Pete Langham, who fully recovered from a similar serious injury 12 years ago.
“He was in a full-fledged coma, and yet he still teaches,” Ruth recalled. “I have confidence that Joey will be another Pete Langham.”
For more information on the raffle or to donate money or skills, contact Jerry Yavarkovsky at 932-8210 or write him at 63 Schmidt Lane, Lake Huntington, NY 12752.

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