Frank Rizzo | Democrat
TOWN OF THOMPSON Supervisor Tony Cellini attended his first town board meeting since May on Tuesday. He listens intently as attorney Walter Garigliano, in blue shirt, goes over his clients’ plans for a development in the township.
Guess Who's Back?
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO September 21, 2007 Were he still in grade school, Tony Cellini could tell the most riveting “what I did on my summer vacation” tale in the class.
But the summer of 2007 was no vacation for the longtime Thompson supervisor.
He nearly died twice.
“I couldn’t have been any closer,” he said Tuesday while preparing for his first town board meeting in four months.
“It’s just nice to be on the green side of the grass.”
In late May, Cellini and a couple of friends were trout fishing on Lake Ontario when nausea struck him with a vengeance.
“I was catching fish, and suddenly I started vomiting,” he recalled in a voice weak from a tracheotomy.
Cellini retired to the hotel room and spent three days in there throwing up.
Convinced it was the flu, he ignored family and friends’ pleas to go to the hospital, until finally it became too much to bear.
On May 23, inside the urgent care ward at Crystal Run Healthcare in Rock Hill, the Sackett Lake resident was told he was in the midst of complete renal failure and had as little as two hours to live.
Cellini was immediately transferred to the Horton campus of Orange Regional Medical Center (ORMC) in Middletown and put on the operating table twice. He almost didn’t survive the second surgery.
Doctors discovered that prior abdominal surgery had left scar tissue that wrapped around and closed off the 66-year-old’s intestines.
They put him on an IV and induced a coma for the next month, and family members transported him to Mt. Sinai in New York to be treated by the world’s leading authorities on such blockages.
Cellini spent two months under their care, with wife Linda and sons Todd and Christopher often at his side.
In the process, he lost more than 18 feet of his intestines, and his broad 235-pound frame dropped to just 160 pounds. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t eat. And thanks to the extraordinary persistence of those around him, he couldn’t conduct any business.
Tony Cellini wasn’t Tony Cellini anymore.
Yet, as deep adversity so often reveals, life and love are far stronger than anyone can imagine.
People who Cellini hardly knew wrote letters of good wishes. Colleagues and friends trekked two hours to pay visits to his bedside. Supporters kept his re-election campaign going in his absence. Even the minutes of one town board meeting after another found their way to him.
“It was really encouraging,” he said, especially enjoying his medical staff’s tales of fondly recalled trips to the county he calls home.
And after an exhausting regimen in a physical rehab center learning how to eat and walk again, Cellini did indeed return home on Labor Day weekend to a county, township and community eagerly anticipating the day.
“Personally, I’m indebted to so many,” he said in a tone of wonder and gratitude, giving specific thanks to his doctors upstate and down, his family, his town board and employees, and his campaign crew.
These days, he’s back up to 190 pounds and is happily walking, talking and eating though not yet as vigorously as before.
“Now I have a cane just for balance,” he related. “… And they let me drive short distances.”
But between his long-awaited return to town politics and an even longer-awaited return to the Finger Lakes home his wife bought them a year and a half ago, there’s little chance doctors will succeed in keeping him on a short leash.
This is, after all, a guy who just days after beginning his recovery at home found Monticello’s Wal-Mart in such poor shape that he demanded they clean up the store, or else.
After a call from the company officials in Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters of the world’s largest corporation Cellini was placated by a now-spotless Supercenter.
Then again, confidence and Tony Cellini are old friends.
“I’m moving along,” he said with the unique resolve of a man who has stared down death. “I just have to get my strength back.”