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Cancer Victim’s Plea Brings Help from Across the Country

September 23, 1987

TORRINGTON, Conn. (AP) _ A destitute cancer patient who called a mayor’s radio show last week with a plea for help has found out that people do care after all.

Donations have poured in from around the country, while local officials have cut through bureaucratic red tape to help Angelo Ferrante get public assistance.

″At one time I thought that Joe thought of Joe, Jack thought of Jack and the hell with the other guy,″ the 60-year-old Ferrante said Wednesday, sitting in the kitchen of the three-room apartment he shares with his wife, Magdaline.

″But there are people out there who think of somebody besides themselves.″

Among those who came forward to help were a Boston lawyer who called Mayor Delia Donne with a promise to provide Ferrante with $100 a month for the rest of his life. Two local businesswomen gave the mayor a blank check to help pay Ferrante’s 500 pharmacy debt.

A woman in nearby Winsted sent a check for $50, along with a note recalling the kindness Ferrante showed her 20 years ago when she was down on her luck.

″It’s time for me to return the good deed,″ wrote the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. ″Do not use the enclosed check for medicine or doctor bills or any other bills. Do something wild. Take your wife out to dinner or buy her a new dress.″

Meals started being delivered this week and the city’s social services director is helping Ferrante apply for a federal program that helps pay for medical bills, including prescriptions and nursing care.

It’s unclear how all the donations will affect Ferrante’s elibigility for public assistance, the mayor said.

Ferrante worked for a caterer for 17 years before being stricken with prostate cancer five years ago. The cancer spread to his bones. He has been through four operations to repair his distintegrating bones with metal rods and plastic.

He and his wife managed to get by until she injured her back two years ago and had to give up her cafeteria job at the local hospital.

Mrs. Ferrante said thoughts of suicide sometimes crossed her mind before her husband’s surprise call to the mayor’s talk show.

″It was one defeat after another,″ Mrs. Ferrante said, tears in her eyes. ″Faith and hope really faded at times. We were going without groceries to pay our bills.″

They have been living on his $591-a-month social security check and her $113-a-month disability check. Insurance covered 80 percent of the medical bills, but trying to pay the difference broke them financially, Mrs. Ferrante said.

Medical bills mounted steadily. When they called one agency to inquire about help, they were advised to sell their car because they were ineligible if they had any assets, Mrs. Ferrante said. It was an impractical solution, because the car was their only means to get to their doctor appointments, she said.

It got to the point that Mrs. Ferrante said she was ashamed to ask the druggist for credit on her husband’s pain pills. The last straw came when they were late paying their rent and got an eviction notice from their landlord.

Mrs. Ferrante said she didn’t know her husband was calling the mayor until he picked up the phone last Tuesday and issued his simple plea for help: ″What does a man do that is on low income, that has cancer and he doesn’t even have enough to buy pills to kill his pain?″

The call made headlines around the country and checks have come in from as far away as Seattle, Mrs. Donne said. A man in Houston who was in financial difficulty himself called the mayor for advice.

Mrs. Donne, more used to fielding calls about trash pickup and other municipal problems on her daily talk show, said she is still in a state of shock over the response to Ferrante’s plea.

She said Ferrante’s plight illustrated a serious flaw in public assistance programs.

″The red tape in our system is unbelieveable,″ Donne said. ″The agencies are out there ... but the communications between the agencies and the people is not there.″

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