Fallon memorial service remembers first cancer cluster victim
FALLON, Nev. (AP) – Local residents gathered at Oats Park for all the right reasons Saturday, to play tennis and Frisbee and raise money for the Fallon youth baseball league at the 41st annual Bean Feed.
But on Sunday, the same city park where children swim and play away the hot Nevada summer was being transformed into a vivid reminder of the fear that has gripped this rural community – a memorial service for a 10-year-old boy who died a week ago from leukemia.
Adam Jernee was the first to die among the 14 children diagnosed with the disease that state health investigators are studying as a cancer cluster.
The dark-eyed boy who loved to build Legos and had dreams of becoming a comedian died last Sunday at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California after fighting acute lymphocytic leukemia for a year.
”We knew it was coming and that it was going to take a miracle and a lot of prayer to get him out of it,” said Brenda Gross, whose 5-year-old son, Dustin Gross, also is being treated for leukemia. ”That didn’t work.”
A balloon launch was scheduled and people who knew Adam planned to share their memories of him at the 6 p.m. outdoor service. Shaded by large cottonwood trees, the park is home to ball fields, tennis courts and a municipal pool built by the Works Progress Administration in 1940.
The local country western radio station, KVLV, planned to break from tradition and play recordings at the memorial service of some of Adam’s favorite music – the Beatles, Journey and Foreigner.
The agriculture and military town paid tribute to Adam on Thursday when the fire whistle atop the 1930 City Hall sounded and church bells rang at 3:31 p.m., the same time he died June 3.
Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford said it was ”a moment to pause and remember what those children are going through.
”I think we all hope there will not be another child affected like this,” he told the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard.
State health officials are investigating the cancer cluster and Nevada’s congressional delegation is pressing for additional federal assistance in tracking the disease in Churchill County, home to about 25,000 residents.
But there’s been little progress in narrowing the potential causes under scrutiny – from drinking water supplies and agricultural chemicals to industrial contaminants and jet fuel at the neighboring Fallon Naval Air Station.
”People are talking about it and concerned about it and they should be,” said Dee Warby, who manages the Best Western Fallon Inn.
”We get a lot of questions from guests checking in because it has hit the national news,” she said.
Gross said area families with other children suffering from leukemia are all of the same mind.
”They want to find a cause and they want it stopped. No one is looking to place blame. We know what it’s like to go through this with children,” she said.
Gross’ son Dustin also suffers from acute lymphocytic leukemia and is undergoing chemotherapy. ALL, the most common form of cancer in children, has struck 13 of the 14 victims here and normally occurs in about three out of every 100,000 children.
Gross said she hasn’t told Dustin about Adam’s death. She said her pre-kindergarten son might be too young to understand.
”He knows he has to take pills and get shots and that’s different than other children,” she said.
”I don’t think at 5 years old he understands death.”
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