Sunnysiders help neighbor cope with big medical bill

By Bill Parry

Sunnyside’s Irish community gathered last month to help one of their own. Alison Ryan McParland, 37, had battled through chemotherapy and radiation treatments since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, and while she was declared cancer free and married the love of her life, the financial burden caused by a year of lost wages and medical bills was enormous.

“Alison’s situation was further complicated by a lot of bad medical advice,” her husband Eoghan said without disclosing where she got that advice. Alison, an immigrant from Kilrush, County Clare, was also unaware of her rights.

“In the state of New York, undocumented patients that are diagnosed with breast cancer are typically eligible for Emergency Medicaid. Emergency Medicaid is good for one year and can be renewed as needed,” said Henry Grulon, the associate director of Ambulatory Care Services Administration at Elmhurst Hospital Center. “Undocumented patients are eligible to receive free clinical breast exams and mammograms through the Cancer Services Program and, in addition, the program covers diagnostic testing that would lead to a final diagnosis.”

While she regained her health, the new couple were bombarded by bill collectors. That’s when Eoghan’s childhood friend stepped in and organized a fund-raising campaign.

Mickey McCreesh, the owner of Bar 43, put together a 15-member committee and began seeking items for auction. “Someone in the neighborhood needs help so I’m here,” McCreesh said. “They’re a lovely couple and they’re in distress because of $200,000 in medical debt, so we’re here to help out.”

Hundreds turned out for a daylong fund-raiser Sept. 13 at the Sunnyside Community Services but Alison and Eoghan stayed away, as is the custom.

“I was actually too embarrassed to go actually,” she said. “It is a wonderful feeling to be a part of a community that cares so much though.”

Eoghan’s brother Eamonn represented them at the event and said, “She’s got absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. She tried to go it alone, but the debt was too much for her to handle. When Mickey found out, he wouldn’t take no for an answer even though they didn’t want it. They are very private people.”

McCreesh was no stranger to fund-raisers having helped form an organization called Sunnyside Cares. After Rockaway was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, the group collected donations and drove supplies to the peninsula for 11 straight weekends and capped their effort by raising $20,000 in the same community center.

Ty Sullivan was a member of Sunnyside Cares and lent his marketing expertise when McCreesh called.

“I’ve never even met Alison, but whenever someone in the neighborhood is in distress, you can count me in,” he said.

While dozens of area bars donated beer and wine, Irish football and hurling teams sent autographed jerseys for auction. One anonymous businessman sent two round trip tickets to Ireland to be raffled off.

“Sunnyside is such a close-knit community and even though it’s not as Irish as it used to be, the people that replaced them pull together as a broader more diverse community,” Eamonn McParland said.

The fund-raising continues online at GoFundMe and McCreesh believes the couple will be relieved of their debt.

“We’re hoping that the hospital would accept the $60,000-plus as a one-off payment,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll accept that and let this couple get on with their lives. It was a great success, three months of work, but worth it in the end.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail bparr‌y@cng‌local.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.