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Ex-Maspeth firefighter beats cancer at North Shore

Lee Ielpi (second r.) applauds after he rings the bell. Ielpi is surrounded by fellow cancer survivors Ronald Barz, (l.) past chief of the Hauppauge Fire Department and Antonio Cruz, (second l.) director of the New York State Firefighter Cancer Support Network, as well as Ielpi's doctor Louis Kavoussi. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Patients at the Monter Cancer Center who complete their treatment and are declared cancer-free will now be ringing a bell signifying the milestone after a firefighters’ cancer support group donated the bell last week.

The idea to bring the bell to the cancer center, which is run by the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, came from Ronald Barz, a retired Long Island firefighter and prostate cancer survivor.

The bell was donated from a fire truck belonging to the Smithtown Fire Department.

Barz, a former chief of the Hauppauge Fire Department, first heard the bell ring at a St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Tennessee and said he thought the silver bell should be installed at the Monter Cancer Center, where he received his cancer treatment.

“Hopefully, it will be done throughout the United States shortly,” he said.

Barz is a member of the Firefighters Cancer Support Network, as is 38-year firefighter veteran and former Maspeth resident Lee Ielpi, who received a standing ovation at the event last week.

Ielpi, a cancer survivor who served 28 years in the FDNY, volunteered at Ground Zero and lost his firefighter son, Jonathan Ielpi, in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I would change nothing. I would change absolutely nothing, except I wish I had my son back,” Ielpi said. “I’d rather crawl down hot, dirty, dark hallways any day of the week. There’s nothing like that dirty, dark hallway.”

Ielpi, who had a form of leukemia called Waldenstrom Syndrome, spent nine months in recovery and received 30 rounds of chemotherapy.

Ielpi said he never dreamed he would be stricken with the disease when he was told of his diagnosis.

“That was impossible,” he said. “I thought they were talking to the guy in the next bed. It couldn’t be me.”

The former Maspeth resident encouraged firefighters to get cancer screenings.

“Just think about your family,” he said. “You want to play with your grandkids as you get older, so get your check-ups,” he said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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