East Meadow native Jeff Whitman has lived with a weak heart his whole life. In recent years it has been tested in more ways than one, but the hearts of folks in his former home are helping to keep him going.
Whitman, 44, who moved to Lancaster, Pa., in 1997, met his future wife, Cathy, there in 2005. She had colon cancer, which at the time was in remission. They married four years later, but the cancer resurfaced, and she died in June 2010. Whitman’s father died a year earlier, and his mother recently, leaving only his sister, who lives in Erie, Pa -- a seven hour drive away.
Whitman exhausted his pension and life savings from a career as a park policeman to pay for his wife’s medical bills. All the time he continued to be treated for congenital heart failure; he attributes his most recent bout of heart troubles to being overweight. They returned home to an eviction notice one day after Whitman’s heart forced an extended stay in the hospital. Cathy died a couple of weeks later, and Whitman returned to the hospital with a rapidly failing heart. He's staying at ManorCare Health Services in Yardley, Pa., where a machine is helping his heart beat while he waits for a new one.
“Jeff is a quiet guy,” said a former high school classmate, Denise Pascalis. “Jeff doesn’t ask for help.”
Whitman and Pascalis dated for nine months during their junior year at East Meadow High School, said Pascalis, breaking up just before finals. But the 1984 graduates stayed in touch over the years, and now Pascalis is the organizer of “Have a Heart for Jeffrey Whitman,” an East Meadow-based fundraiser working to help cover the costs of unpaid rent, medical bills from Cathy and credit card balances.
Since the online fundraiser started two weeks ago, donors have sent in more than $4,000 -- including donations from East Meadow High School and several members of Whitman’s graduating class. Many former classmates have also called him at ManorCare. 'Have a heart' has set a goal of $10,000.
Whitman was removed from the heart transplant list after his wife died because he lacked the support needed after the surgery. Pascalis, who is his health care proxy, said they received word last week that he would be placed on a list shortly.
Once he’s better he hopes to return to Long Island and spend more time with Pascalis on the beach.
“I do miss it,” he said. “I do miss the area. I do miss my friends.”
“Have a Heart for Jeffrey Whitman” will hold a fundraiser March 5 at RC Dugans in East Meadow, 2314 Hempstead Tpke. There will be an open bar, buffet, live music and raffles from 6 to 9 p.m. Cost is $40. For more information, contact Denise Pascalis at 516-455-9780 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be made at giveforward.com/haveaheartforjeffrey.