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Cancer patient gets help from 'stranger'

From left: Gary Zaccaro, a local contractor, remodeled

From left: Gary Zaccaro, a local contractor, remodeled the basement of John Sopack, of Massapequa Park, in order to create a germ-free environment. Sopack, who is battling leukemia, is readying for a transplant, and needs to remain isolated from his young children when they are sick, while his own immune system remains compromised. (Feb. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

John Sopack needed a home within his Massapequa Park home -- a sanitary basement apartment where he could safely and comfortably recover from his treatments for leukemia.

A stranger volunteered to build it for him.

"When I read about John, it moved me," said Gary Zaccaro, a Massapequa contractor. "He was somebody from my community."

Zaccaro, 46, this month finished renovating Sopack's basement as a bedroom, living room and bathroom.

He said he spent $35,000 on supplies and labor that included 20 workers. He oversaw every aspect of the construction, from the Sheetrock walls to the plumbing.

Zaccaro said he has built out many basements through his company, Ambassador Home Improvement, but Sopack's needs are unique.

"It's not just that he goes down there recreationally. He has to live there," Zaccaro said.

Sopack, 36, was diagnosed in September with acute myeloid leukemia. He began treatment Feb. 3 that includes chemotherapy and a bone marrow and stem cell transplant.

The treatment suppressed his immune system, making him unable to fight infections and diseases.

The married father of 2-year-old and 4-month-old sons is due home from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan early next month and requires a recovery space that limits his exposure to germs.

"I needed somewhere to allow me to isolate myself from my family, my newborn, anything that is life-threatening to me as an immuno-suppressed patient," Sopack said.

Zaccaro began the four-week construction project with a clear understanding of Sopack's needs, both physical and emotional.

"The most important thing was to set up a space that is like his own little world away from his family in his house," Zaccaro said. "He needs to come home to a different kind of home."

Without Zaccaro's contribution, Sopack said he might be forced to live in an environment less than ideal for his full recovery.

Over the course of the construction, the two men become friends, their relationship strained by just one difference of opinion.

"The only bad thing about John is that he's a Minnesota Vikings fan," said Zaccaro, who roots for the Giants.

Sopack said his feelings of gratitude toward Zaccaro are indescribable.

"It's something you can't put into words: how somebody comes out of nowhere, and, out of the goodness and generosity and kindness of his heart, says, 'You're a complete stranger, but you're a part of my community and I want to do something for you.' "

Sopack predicted that Zaccaro has good deeds coming his way.

"It's a paying-it-forward thing," Sopack said. "It's karma."

 

The renovation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Isolates him from his children, whose ordinarily harmless germs could be life-threatening to him
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  • Includes a bedroom with walk-in closet, living room, bathroom with moisture-resistant Sheetrock and a filtration system for cleaner air
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