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Thanks to angels, he's going to fly



Published: Sat, August 4, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A gift from The Angel Foundation is sending a terminally ill Youngstown man to Florida to see his son.

By PHIL NOVAK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- It all started with some pain at work, deep in the pit of his stomach, in 1991. The burgeoning pain kept him from performing his job, and he knew something was wrong.

"I just knew I had to go to the hospital," said Joseph Villanueva of Rigby Street on the city's East Side, who was then diagnosed with colon cancer.

He quickly had surgery, and when he felt better, he went back to work. But in March 1999, the pain returned. This time, Villanueva was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This time, the results would be devastating.

He couldn't go back to work again. His 170-pound frame dropped to a sickly 114 pounds. Doctors have given him only a few more months to live.

"The hardest part is knowing that you're going to leave your family," he said. "My father had cancer too. He died of cancer."

His wish: The illness used up most of his money, and Villanueva couldn't afford a plane ticket to visit his son and grandson one last time in Florida.

He was tempted to drive down. Alone.

But thanks to a gift from The Angel Foundation, that won't be necessary. On Monday, Villanueva will fly to Florida for two weeks on a ticket purchased by the foundation.

"When you're in an awkward situation as I am, and then someone comes along and says, 'How would you like to see your son who lives far away?' it's a great thing," he said.

Evangeline McDorman, an independent social worker at Hospice of the Valley's Youngstown facility, where Villanueva has been treated since February, wrote a letter to The Angel Foundation explaining his situation and his wish to see his son and grandson again.

"He's really, really excited," McDorman said. "And smiling a lot. It's a wonderful smile."

A nonprofit organization, The Angel Foundation has been granting wishes for terminally ill adults since 1995 and is the only organization in Ohio to do so. Jean Miller, the foundation's chairperson, said Villanueva's family was excited by the news that he would be coming to Florida.

"They are really looking forward to seeing him," said Jean Miller, the wish coordinator for The Angel Foundation. "It's really a big desire of his, too.

"I'm hoping he can go and really enjoy himself. When we get the request, we know they are near the end. We just hope they can go in peace."

Grateful: And Villanueva couldn't be more grateful.

"It's great," he said. "I just think it's very nice of them to do this for me."

Villanueva said his entire family has been supportive during his struggle. His ex-wife moved in to help on the more difficult days, and his other two sons, both of whom live in the area, visit often.

"They just try to keep me happy," he said. "Like most families, I guess, they cried a lot in the beginning, but we're all dealing with it now."

His medication usually keeps him strong enough to take care of himself, and he still rides his motorcycle whenever he can.

"I'm still strong enough to ride," he said.

And he tries not to think about the inevitable.

"I don't worry about it a lot. I've got my faith in God."




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