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Nassau police host St. Baldrick's Day fundraiser in New Hyde Park

Cancer survivor Karen Melito, of Westbury, shaves her

Cancer survivor Karen Melito, of Westbury, shaves her head as a show of solidarity for kids battling cancer at a St. Baldrick's event in New Hyde Park. (April 2, 2013) (Credit: Tara Conry)

Since finishing her last round of chemotherapy and radiation nearly one year ago, Karen Melito has been cancer-free. Her once-thinning hair had even grown back.

But on Tuesday, the Westbury woman sat down in a folding chair inside Marcus Christ Hall in New Hyde Park and had it all shaved off.

More than 50 people signed up to have their heads shaved during the fifth annual St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser hosted by officers from the Nassau County Police Department’s Third Precinct.

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“I woke up about three weeks ago and I called my friend Jamie and said, ‘I think I need to shave my head for the kids,’” Melito explained as she waited for her turn in the barber’s chair.

Melito and her friend, Jamie Murphy, 47, of Westbury, both recently lost their mothers to cancer, and after spending the past year personally battling anal cancer, Melito wanted to do something empowering that would benefit children fighting the disease.

“I know what it feels like. You’re poked and prodded, and you don’t feel well,” Melito said. “You feel kind of alone. Those kids are real troopers to go through that and I wanted to do something just to support them.”

One of those kids -- James Sokol, 15, of New Hyde Park -- was at the event. Sokol, a freshman at Sewanhaka High School, was diagnosed on Jan. 21 with Burkitt’s leukemia. Since then he has been undergoing treatment, which has caused him to lose all of his hair.

As a show of solidarity, 15 of his fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 298 shaved their heads Tuesday, including 11-year-old Cliff Baumann.

“He has a heart of gold, my son,” Cliff’s mother, Patricia Baumann, 40, said. “He’s always thinking of other people.”

Sokol’s younger brother, Michael, 12, and his father, New Hyde Park Fire Chief Paul Sokol, also shed their locks, along with many firefighters from Sokol’s department.

“It’s overwhelming,” Paul Sokol, 50, said. “I’ve always shown support for other organizations and other families going through crisis and now to be on the receiving end ... it really does put a whole other perspective on what you do for other people.”

Sokol said James’s spirits have remained “very high” and his prognosis is good. The doctors have told the family that the success rate for treating this type of leukemia is more than 90 percent.

“This isn’t just cops ... so many people in the community have really embraced this,” said Nick Mosesso, 50, an officer with the Third Precinct’s Problem Oriented Policing Unit, who has been organizing the event since its inception.

Before the first head was shaved Tuesday, this year’s fundraiser had already brought in more than $33,000, according to Mosesso, who was hoping to get close to his goal of $50,000.

Nassau County Police Det. John O’Connor, 47, shaved his head for the fourth-straight year and raised roughly $4,300. He also recruited the McDonnells, of Orange County, to participate. His longtime friend Kerri McDonnell, 42, a Williston Park native, made the drive from upstate New York with her family, so her son, P.J., 8, could shave his head for the first time. P.J.’s 11-year-old cousin, Dougie, is currently undergoing cancer treatments in Massachusetts, and he wanted to do something special for him.

P.J. wasn’t scared at all about getting the shave, but once his hair was gone, he said, “I feel a little cold.”

The Demos brothers -- Billy, 8, and Joseph, 5 -- of Mineola also shaved their heads and raised $150 together, but their little sister, Anna, 3, burst into tears when her mother, Jennifer Demos, told her she couldn’t go bald, too.

“She can do it next year,” said Demos, 41, a crossing guard with the Third Precinct. “I want them to realize how lucky they are. They are healthy.”

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