Rural community pauses to remember cancer victim
FALLON, Nev. (AP) – Local residents grappling with a feared cancer cluster paused in a moment of silence Thursday in memory of the first of 14 children diagnosed with leukemia to die.
Church bells rang and a fire whistle sounded for 60 seconds when clocks struck 3:31 p.m., the same time Adam Jernee died Sunday at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California. The 10-year-old had lingered in a drug-induced coma, his lungs damaged by the illness and efforts to treat it.
No one in this rural town of 8,300 could remember the last time the whistle atop the 1930 City Hall blared other than to signal noontime, alert volunteer firefighters or celebrate an occasional Fourth of July.
”My hope would be we never have to do this again,” said Don Mello, a longtime Fallon businessman.
Adam’s death hit especially hard with parents of other children battling leukemia. A memorial service is scheduled Sunday at a city park in Fallon.
”You know deep down and in the back of your heart that it could be your child,” said Brenda Gross, whose 5-year-old son Dustin is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia. 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.
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.
”There’s 10,000 questions out there,” said Mello, who has reared his family in Fallon since 1963. ”The whole community is concerned about the cluster.”
Flags flew at half staff Thursday as city workers weeded yellow flowers in the middle of Maine Street, spelled after the home state of the man who founded the city in 1908.
The farming and Navy town sits on U.S. 50, 60 miles east of Reno and 400 miles north of Las Vegas.
It sprouted from the high desert sagebrush with the first major irrigation project in the West.
Visitors from the west are greeted by Bob’s Root Beer, and Frontier Liquor and Sporting Goods before car dealerships give way to fast-food restaurants and an authentic A-7 Navy jet.
The sign at the Lariat Motel says, ”God Bless America.” The one across the street at the Best Western Fallon Inn, says simply: ”Adam Jernee.”
”I don’t know them, but they are part of the community. We wanted to show support for the family,” said Manager Dee Warby, who said Fallon reminds her of other Western towns where she has lived like Beaver, Utah, and Clovis, N.M.
”Everybody cares about everybody else.”
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