Dayton youth, 18, forgoes Army for tougher battle | NevadaAppeal.com

Dayton youth, 18, forgoes Army for tougher battle

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

After a yard sale this weekend, a Dayton family needs $69,000 more to pay off their 18-year-old son’s medical bills.

The Contis made about $300 from the sale.

But how they will be afford to take their son for an initial medical interview in San Francisco in the upcoming days has mom worried.

Joey Conti has chronic myeloid leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant immediately, according to his doctor.

“As a mother I’m supposed to be fixing things,” said Robin Conti in tears. “This is not something you can put a Band-Aid on and it will all go away.”

Not only is she putting her hopes on her 14-year-old son, Levi, being a bone marrow match for Joey, a graduate of Dayton High School, she’s also hoping they’ll be able to make it there in the car.

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“I still owe $250 on the transmission,” she said. “I need to have the brakes fixed and it needs a tune-up. (Dayton Valley Transmission) has been very nice to me, because they had a daughter who had leukemia.”

But the company that financed her 2000 Mazda has not.

“I have concerns we’re not going to be able to make our rent and our car payment,” she said describing the pressures. “When I called the car company for an extension on our payment, they said no. They said, ‘People die all the time.’ I hung up. I said, ‘I can’t talk to you people.'”

She has taken medical leave from Click Bond and her husband is about to lose his state job. Their grandson is living with them. Robin had her own fight against cancer. Her husband will be undergoing treatment for his own medical issue soon. Income in scarce, but the love is not.

Items for sale in the family’s front yard this weekend were Levi’s basketball hoop, a friend’s wedding dress, the grandson’s stuffed animals and toys, even a donated 50-inch projection TV for $250.

But what may be hardest of all for the family of four is accepting that another struggle has come Joey’s way.

In an unrelated medical illness, Joey suffered three strokes in March 2003 and lost his memory.

Doctors, unable to precisely explain the cause, said it was a result of confusional migraines.

Robin remembers March 18, 2003, exactly. She picked up Joey, then 16, from track at Dayton. He had a migraine and was dehydrated and she took him to Carson-Tahoe.

“By the time we got to the hospital, he couldn’t sit up,” she said. “He couldn’t speak. He wasn’t aware of any of his surroundings.”

He was given anti-seizure medication, sent to West Hills hospital in Reno when he was particularly violent, and broke his hand after reacting in frustration when a classmate made up stories from Joey’s past that he couldn’t remember. About a year ago, Joey went off medication.

He decided to join the Army. His parents steadfastly refused, but after his insistence, they signed the papers.

Over his senior year, he started to become ill. He threw up often and lost a lot of weight.

“By March, he was pretty sick,” Robin said. “The recruiter told him to get checked out because he couldn’t go to boot camp like that.”

The next thing Robin knew, there was a voicemail on her phone from her son, then another one, and then a third, saying he had leukemia. In the last one, he said: “Mom, I’m going to die.”

Joey, who has been taking oral chemotherapy every day, is committed to surviving.

He just adopted two Chihuahuas, Pooky and Scooby, for company. He works at the Lucky Spur three days a week, when he shouldn’t be, his mom said, because he’s getting weaker.

“They don’t know why he has this,” she said. “CML normally affects people in their 50s. It’s the same type of leukemia that people in Japan exposed to the atomic bomb had. He hasn’t been exposed to any radiation.”

Her worries are many: Will Levi be a match? Will the massive doses of radiation and chemotherapy Joey takes to kill his own marrow affect his heart and necessitate a heart transplant? What if he gets graft versus host disease after the transplant? How will they get to San Francisco in their car?

“It’s very scary,” she said. “No matter what, he’s going to be in the hospital for a very long time.”

But Joey, who by all descriptions is modest and wasn’t even sure he wanted his mom going to the press with his story, is strong, she said.

“He’s very determined to fight this,” she said. “He is a fighter.”

n Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.