More than eight months ago, The Times-Tribune launched a new feature that aimed not only to tell the stories of local people struggling with all manner of tragic events — from unexpected deaths to life-threatening diagnoses, accidents and more — but also to help them find support.
Since then, we’ve heard from the dozens of families and individuals who were featured in the column “In Times of Need,” and learned how crucial this reader service has become. Unfortunately, there never seems to be a shortage of people who can benefit from this offer.
But as the feature notes each week in its regular slot in Weekend Times on Wednesdays, “In Times of Need, Northeast Pennsylvania comes to the aid of its own.” And so we will continue to provide a platform for area residents facing a variety of obstacles to create awareness and connect them with much-needed help into 2019.
For now, read on for updates on all of our past stories from 2018. While some had good news to share and others still struggle, one thing was true for all: your contributions have made a difference.
Mike Butler of Dunmore
Suffered a traumatic brain injury while working for the borough’s Department of Public Works
“Michael is making great progress. It’s slow and steady. Some days are great, and some days are just OK,”said Butler’s sister, Natalie King, who noted that he lives in a Milford cottage with other TBI patients monitored by 24-hour staff. “He’s getting all his necessary therapies plus transitioning skills to get back to Dunmore. We don’t have an exact release date, but possibly late summer/early fall. He comes home for dinner every Sunday and looks forward to seeing all of us. We are just so grateful that we have him. We were scared for most of the winter with how critical his injury is/was.”
Tony DiBileo of Scranton
Victim of a random shooting
“Tony is doing remarkably well and getting better every day,” said his brother, Gary DiBileo. “He is so fortunate to have so many incredible people from our community supporting him during this ordeal. He and his family want to thank everyone for all of their thoughts and prayers, which have helped pull him through.”
Jalen Chandler of Scranton
Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia
“He’s in remission,” said mom Wynter Chandler. “We still go monthly for appointments and labs, but for the most part he’s healthy, thank God. I am super proud of the strength and courage he showed during this whole process.”
Maria Day of Madison Twp.
Suffered traumatic injuries and lost her wife, Olivia, in a car crash after being hit by a drunk driver
“She is doing very well,” said mom Lisa Day. “She’s still undergoing intensive occupational therapies, but she’s driving now. She still has some physical symptoms, but she’s really progressing. It’s a been a long haul. She still has memory issues, so it’s challenging in that regard. But we’re just glad to have her here.”
Tori Siconolfi of Throop
Breast cancer patient
“It was a long nine-week recovery, but I came back to work part-time in July,” said Siconolfi, who went for a final surgery Dec. 19. “I’m putting this year way far behind me. I will be out of work for around six weeks following this surgery and plan on returning back to my business part-time in February.”
Alicia and Jared Jordan of Scranton
Lost their home and pets in a house fire
The cause of the fire remains under investigation for arson, Alicia Jordan shared, and the family has had to move a few times since losing its house. Though her family has faced many struggles, she does her best to “take things one day at a time” and celebrate small victories, such as being able to replace all their belongings and Jared’s advances in homeschooling, which is necessary because of his advanced scoliosis. “He is a gifted and honor roll student. There are so many caring people in this world I didn’t even know, and that article helped us so much,” she said.
Kaitlyn Trusz of Hawley
Suffers from extreme, chronic digestive issues
“She is still struggling so much,” said mom Amber Bassett, who added that her daughter now relies totally and indefinitely on parenteral nutrition, or nourishment received through a central line, and that she has battled sepsis. Doctors have even suggested removing Kaitlyn’s colon, though for now, they monitor her condition with repetitive tests. to help with medical bills remains active.
Margaret Moran Smargiassi of Archbald
Required chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant to combat myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasms
“Margaret is still traveling to Philadelphia twice a week for her treatment,” said Melissa Farina Zawislak, a close friend. “She has had some struggles. For example, her blood pressure — they are trying to get it under control. She remains positive and keeps pushing through her struggles.”
The family of Doreen Cuozzo Demming of Scott Twp.
Died Jan. 27 after health struggles
“Things have been as good as they can be, I suppose,” said her son, Ed Cuozzo, who added that he was blown away by community support after his mom died. “I’m lucky to have such caring and loving people in my life, and more than that, I was lucky to have such an amazing person as a mother. We are doing the best that we can without my mom here in the physical realm, but I plan on doing everything in my power to keep her memory and spirit alive forever.”
Gage Laske of Scranton
Has autism and suffered severe eye damage from seizures
Gage’s eyesight has steadily improved since an Aug. 28 eye surgery in Philadelphia. “He’s doing very well. The surgery was successful as long as he doesn’t have another seizure like he did. He should stay pretty good, but he has to go for eye therapy and follow-ups,” said his mother, Judy Laske. “But he just made honor roll. I am so proud of him.” Donations for continued care on his neurological conditions can be made at with the code C7B-D4X or mailed to 969 Providence Road, Scranton, PA 18508 (make checks payable to PA ABLE with “Gage Laske” in the memo field).
Lori Remetta Detrick of Throop
Esophageal cancer patient
“She still has some nodules, but a lot of the little lesions shrunk,” said Detrick’s sister, Karen LaMorte. “She came a long way from what she was. She seems to be feeling pretty good.”
Joe Diskin of Clarks Summit
Non-Hodgkins lymphoma patient
“Joe is doing well. After finishing up his chemo at the end of summer, his most recent PET scan showed some cancer still remaining. Unfortunately, chemo will not cure him, so the next option is a bone marrow transplant,” shared Diskin’s fiance, Dan Krenitsky. “His two brothers are not a match, so it is opened up to a donor. (Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania) found a new possible cure called CAR T-Cell Therapy; the only problem is that it has not been passed by the FDA in Joe’s particular cancer, so it is a trial. Luckily, last we spoke to the doctor, the trial opened up, and Joe was placed at No. 2 on the list. There is no date at the moment … so we are just waiting on a call.”
William Perry of Scranton
Suffers from congestive heart failure and COPD
“He is doing wonderful,” said daughter Stacey Perry, who added that her father is back to work, using oxygen and going to his appointments regularly, though now he also cares for his ailing wife. “As a family, we work together to make sure Dad and Mom are taken care of.”
The family of Anya Sandra Galarza of Scranton
Died June 24 as a result of injuries suffered after falling into a pool
“My sister, her husband and kids are still living in nightmare mode,” shared Jessica Griffiths, Anya’s aunt. While initial fundraising helped with a portion of medical bills, the family still struggles to finish paying off costs associated with Anya’s death while caring for other special-needs children. continues to collect money online for their benefit.
Scott Kazlaski of Duryea
“Our family is hanging in. It’s been a trying year with some ups and downs,” said Kazlaski’s wife, Michele. “In August, Scott was hospitalized with pneumonia, and it was touch-and-go for a bit, but he thankfully pulled through really well, and he had another surgery in October.”
Connor Abda of West Wyoming
Born June 1 with severe combined immunodeficiency, or “Boy in the Bubble” disease
“He’s doing so good,” said dad Jason Abda, noting that following an umbilical cord blood transplant, Connor has been showing signs of improvement overall despite some setbacks. “He’s growing and scooting and eating applesauce and stuff now. He’s literally the happiest baby ever. Since birth, too, just by looking at him, you would never, ever know he has such a crazy disease. He’s so healthy looking. The doctors say he’s the ‘ideal SCID baby’ because of size and growth. He can have an immune system, if all goes well, by spring.” Blue bows in support of the Abda family and SCID are available for purchase at the Olyphant borough building, 113 Willow Ave., during regular business hours.
Liz Yatsko of Scranton
Breast cancer patient
“I’m doing well. I have my final chemo treatment directly after the new year, then about a month of radiation and then I should be clear, with some preventative treatment over the next year,” Yatsko said. “My doctors are happy with my progress. I cannot wait to be back to real life.”
Benjamin Pryzant of Jermyn
Suffers from extreme kidney and bladder issues
“He still has kidney pain, and he has to go for more testing and to see a nephrologist,” said his aunt, Gabby Pryzant. “The urologist said they hoped surgery would bring down the swelling in both kidneys, but it did not. They are severely swollen and abnormally shaped with severe damage to both kidneys. Unfortunately, Ben has a long road ahead of him.”
Britny Krisanda of Archbald
Suffered severe burns over 30 percent of her body in a cookoutaccident
“Physically, she’s doing well,” said Krisanda’s mother, Kim Stadnitski. “She’s very scarred, but she’s able to have full motion in her arm. Mentally, she has nightmares. She sees a PTSD doctor and is doing everything she can. She’ll get there. She went back to work and shoots pool for a team every week. The therapist told her that’s actually good for her.”
Leslie Matatics of Scranton
Has Stage IV lung cancer
“When my mom, a healthy, non-smoking 55-year-old, was diagnosed in July with Stage IV lung cancer, she was told that without treatment, she’d have three to six months to live. Generous responses to the initial Times-Tribune story, fundraising benefits and subsequent qualification for Medicaid have enabled her to pay her initial hospital bills and undergo radiation and chemotherapy,” said Matatics’ daughter, Angelica Rose. “But when follow-up scans in November showed no reduction so far in her tumors, my mom decided to implement medical cannabis and nutrition-based therapy — although it isn’t covered by her health insurance and is costing her an excess of money out of pocket each month. At this time, she is housebound and bedridden, but she and my father and all nine of their children remain hopeful and appreciative of your ongoing support, thoughts and prayers.”
Michael J. Bonevich of Scranton
Suffered multiple cardiac events before and after a truck accident
“He is doing alright,” said Bonevich’s daughter, Danielle Chesek. “The sarcoidosis that got him in this position in the first place has been found in multiple locations throughout his body, unfortunately. It is in his lungs, spleen, somewhere in his neck (causing ear/nose/throat issues) and lymph nodes.” He will travel to Philadelphia to see a specialist, and the family remains hopeful it will get his treatment on the right track once that happens, she added.
Robert Forsythe of Paupack Twp.
Survived a paralyzing fall
“We’re basically hanging in there. He’s doing pretty good. He’s very, very self-sufficient,” said Forsythe’s mother, Linda Coutts. “There’s no feeling yet, but they said it could be six months, a year; whatever we get back, we get back, and what we don’t, we don’t. He’s in therapy three days a week. It’s a battle. You work your hardest to keep everything going good. After a while you see a few little things. His spirit is good. He did go doe hunting from his wheelchair.”
Serena Evans of White Haven
Has advanced cerebral palsy and multiple-seizure disorder
“We were able to raise enough money to get Serena a handicapped-accessible van, and she was so excited when she saw it,” said her mother, Rebecca Frame.
Anthony Turco of Clarks Summit
Suffered multiple traumatic injuries in a severe car crash
“He’s doing well physically. Still no walking yet, and lots of extreme hand therapy because he lost feeling in it and its function, so he goes about three times a week,” said Turco’s fiance, Misty Baker. “Lots of bones still healing, but he’s doing so great. We are just happy he’s with us. He is very lucky.”
Debbie Ann Fisher of Jessup
Has Stage IV colon cancer
“She’s holding on … going back and forth to Baltimore for her clinical trials,” said family member Erin Sheridan.
Alexis “Lexi” Caviston of Scranton
Has Stage IV glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer
“I have been slowly moving all of my stuff back to school,” the nursing student said. “Everything is going very well. I had a clean MRI on Oct. 26 and am free for another three months. I start back to school in January and will finish my chemo in March. I am so excited to start back; I have missed it so much. I will graduate in May of 2020.”
Carrie Chase of Jermyn
Breast cancer patient
“I have seven treatments left, probably (done) sometime in January,” Chase said. “I’m on a different chemo now, still considered aggressive, but it’s not as bad as the other one I was on. … I was really, really sick from that. I’m able to function a little better. When you go through cancer, you have to have a good support system; I think that is the key. I truly am blessed to have such a great family and friends and even my community of Jermyn.”
Violet Pantucci of Pittston
Has lissencephaly, or “smooth brain” disease
“Violet has had lots of ups and downs since the article ran. When she is doing well and able to go to school, she is so happy and does beautifully socially and academically,” said her mother, Elizabeth. “However, when she gets sick, she really struggles … and there are lots of germs in kindergarten. That kind of illness really lowers her threshold for seizures. So, we are still at (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) regularly. Despite all of that, she still gives 100 percent and is always flashing her beaming smile. I should also mention that Violet has been loving the companionship of her 4-month-old service dog in training, Sully. He’s already made multiple trips to CHOP as well as other appointments with her, where he has provided her with lots of reassuring snuggles. He sleeps by her side at night as well. One day, he will also be able to alert us to seizures. This will give Violet more of a sense of independence. We are really looking forward to that.”
The family of Carol Oleski
Died Oct. 9 after battling Stage IV lung cancer
“Everything is well on our end,” shared her niece, Monica Simon.
Luca Burgio of Dunmore
Has acute lymphoblastic leukemia
“Luca is feeling OK. We will be in the rough for a few more months and hopefully by the spring, things will start to ease up,” said his mother, Tori Donahue. “But he is staying very positive and handling everything so well.”
Darlene Demming Skelton of Dickson City
Has severe heart disease
Skelton reported that she has experienced more blackout episodes recently and should know more about what can be done to repair some of her health problems when she goes to a doctor in Philadelphia, hopefully soon. “People are sending in cards, and it’s been such a blessing,” she said. “I was able to pay my rent this month and get two used tires that I needed to pass inspection to get to doctor appointments. I was getting scared. But I’m very grateful.” Donations still can be sent to Darlene Demming Skelton at 521 Morgan St., Dickson City, PA 18519, or else made online at .
John Stoffey of Dickson City
Has Stage IV brain cancer
“The treatments (chemo and radiation) weren’t working for him. … He ended up in the hospital for about a week because of the Stevens-Johnson Syndrome” he also recently was diagnosed with, said Stoffey’s aunt, Janice Grzyboski. “He went for another MRI at the end of November, and the tumor is growing back, so what he’s going to do now is going to Sloan-Kettering in New Jersey to meet with a doctor there to look for another option. We’re just praying and praying. He’s so touched that people are helping him. People were sending him Bibles and gifts that he doesn’t even know who they are. He can’t believe it. He just appreciates it.”
Mike Giordano of Dunmore
Suffered severe injuries in a motorcycle crash
“He’s recovering faster, I think, than any of us thought. Each week he’s making huge strides,” said Giordano’s sister, Medea. “He’s still walking with a walker and will probably have to use it for quite a while, but he’s able to be more independent than before. He can walk around his apartment without needing someone right next to him. In the first few weeks, he needed someone to help move his legs when he had to get up; now he can do that on his own. He’s still not able to stand or sit upright in a chair for long periods of time, but he’s getting there. Unfortunately, being able to work still feels far off. His ribs are still healing, as is the femur and pelvis and everything else, but he’s showing promise of a full recovery.”
Vinnie Valvano of Lake Ariel
Lives with epidermolysis bullosa, a painful skin disease that leaves him covered in reoccurring wounds
“Vinnie is not doing well. He hasn’t had the treatment that helps him in over a month, and he is fighting hard every day to keep his skin from breaking down,” said Valvano’s mother, Teri. “It is so fragile now that any movement causes wounds, which are covering over more than 85 percent of his body. He has been homebound for such a long time, and he is pretty much confined to his recliner. However, he is so grateful that so many people have responded. We are still working to get closer to our goal (of moving to Massachusetts to be closer to treatment). Finding the right home to provide for Vinnie’s needs is not an easy task, but we are optimistic.” Donations still can be made online at and made payable to Theresa Valvano and sent to 169 Bob Black Road, Lake Ariel, PA 18436.
The family of the late Kelsey Granteed
Died Nov. 7
The benefit held Dec. 15 in honor of the 27-year-old from Pittston not only raised money for Granteed’s surviving family and suicide prevention efforts but also served as a way to gather heartbroken friends who could let past fights, hurt feelings and fractured friendships be bygones. Many from the dedicated group of organizers expressed a hope to make the successful concert event an annual occurrence in tribute to their departed friend.
NEPA Youth Shelter
Serves local high school-aged kids
The space at 541 Wyoming Ave., Scranton, received “tons and tons” of donations of items such as towels, personal care products and monetary gifts after its story ran — adding up to about $4,000 in the first four days following publication. “It was tremendous. I never expected (it). The kids were all tickled to see their pictures and quotes in the paper. It’s just remarkable,” said executive director Maureen Maher-Gray, who added that they also are making progress toward securing a structure for an overnight shelter.
Ann Luklanchuk of Throop
Breast cancer patient
The mother of two and brand-new grandmother to baby girl Dahlia Mae will resume chemotherapy treatments in Philadelphia after the holidays, her daughter Heather said. In the meantime, Luklanchuk is soaking up every precious moment with her family and reflecting with gratitude on the kindness of strangers who have donated to help her deal with the financial burden associated with her disease.
Sophia Tylutke of Dupont
Born four months premature
Baby Sophia has gained a couple pounds since she was born Oct. 26 and recently was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton, making life much easier for her family, which no longer has to travel to and from the children’s hospital in Danville.
Do you know someone In Times of Need?
If you or someone you know needs help and will share their story, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, 570-348-9127 or In Times of Need, Attn: Lifestyles Department, 149 Penn Ave., Scranton, PA 18503.