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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Firefighter's Gift of Life Comes Full Circle

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, March 30, 2006

North Adams Fire Department Lt. Joseph Beverly shows Mayor John Barrett III the functions of a Scott Eagle X thermal imaging unit donated to the fire department. [Photo Sue Bush]
North Adams - An international company whose work in the development of advanced defense and aerospace systems is known and respected world-wide might have never heard of the North Adams Fire Department.

But after a city firefighter donated a kidney to a BAE Systems Inc. employee, not only did the firm take notice, they took action, and donated a Scott Eagle X thermal imaging camera valued at about $12,000 to the department.

A Generous Gift

Fire department Lt. Joseph Beverly, 41, donated a kidney to his cousin and BAE employee 35-year-old Melissa Cahoon Chevalier in 2002; on March 30, Beverly offered a demonstration of the donated camera to Mayor John Barrett III at Barrett's office. Beverly was presented with the camera at a BAE facility in New Hampshire on Feb. 13. The device and a charging unit will be kept inside the fire department's new fire truck, which was delivered to the department earlier this year.


A Scott Eagle X thermal imaging unit can "see" Mayor John Barrett III.[Photo Sue Bush]
The fire department does have another thermal imaging camera, however, it is an older model.

Chevalier was instrumental with initiating the donation, said Beverly during a recent interview.

"She knew that this tool would benefit the fire department and me as a firefighter," Beverly said. "She knew this tool would help me do the job, and keep me safe."

The thermal imaging unit can sense changes in temperature and is able to function in even very dark and murky conditions, Beverly said.

"It doesn't rely on light, so it can see through anything. The hotter something is, the closer to white it [the image] will appear [on a camera screen]. The imager can detect the seat [likely hottest point, or point of origin] of a fire. It is a wonderful, wonderful tool for assisting firefighters."

Speaking on March 30, Barrett noted his appreciation to BAE Systems for the donation and commended Beverly for his actions.

"We're proud that he is a member of our fire department," Barrett said. "This is a very generous gift."

Beverly's decision to donate a kidney to Chevalier exemplifies the character of firefighters, especially those who work at the city fire department, Barrett said.

City Fire Director Stephen Meranti and Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco attended the afternoon media conference. Meranti has sent a thank you letter to BAE Systems Vice-president Aaron Penkacik.

"Having My Life Back"

Speaking last week from her home in New Hampshire, Chevalier, 35, said that Beverly is responsible for "me having my life back."

"I'm just glad that I could be part of something for Joe and all the firefighters," she said. "There are no words to describe what I got from this."

Chevalier was a college student when she became ill. She was subsequently diagnosed with sarcoidosis, she said. The disease forced a spleen removal surgery, and Chevalier said that throughout her 20s, she was aware that the disease was progressing and affecting her kidneys.

A No-Brainer

It was during the 2001 Christmas holiday season when Beverly's aunt, who is Chevalier's mother, approached family members. Chevalier was in need of a kidney transplant, and her mother asked if any family members were willing to be tested as possible donors.

Beverly and Melissa Chevalier are accompanied by BAE Systems Inc. officials during on Feb. 13, when Beverly was presented with a thermal imaging unit being donated to the city fire department.[Photo: Corey Myers]


"I decided that I would get tested and it turned out that I was considered very compatible, for a non-sibling," he said.

A decision to donate an organ is a very personal and very individual matter, Beverly said.

"For me, it was a no-brainer," he said. "I didn't take too much time to think about it. It was an absolute go."

For Chevalier, who by that time was feeling very ill and sleeping as much as 12 hours a day during weekends, Beverly's decision meant an opportunity for life.

"It was a relief that I had someone to help," she said. "Joe is enough older than me that we didn't spend a lot of time together as kids. It was kind of a surprise to me when he stepped forward."

Beverly agreed that the two were not particularly close as children. That has changed since the transplant, he said.

Family and Friends

"We are closer than ever now," he said. "I considered this [the donated kidney] a gift of family love. And now she sends me birthday cards and Christmas cards. She has a quality of life now."

"Joe has never asked for any recognition, he's just happy that I'm feeling better," Chevalier said. "I've sent him e-mails that said 'I went to the grocery store today - because I could.' My husband says that I'm a different person. I get to be the person I would have always been if I wasn't sick."

The transplant was originally scheduled for the 2002 fall but Chevalier's worsening health made doctors move the date to Aug. 14. Prior to the surgery, Beverly met with a liaison and the physicians who would oversee his care. He discussed the organ donation with his children and his girlfriend, who is now his wife.

"It does affect your family," he said. "You can 'what if' yourself into going crazy. My biggest fear was that the transplant wouldn't take. And was it worth the risk? Absolutely yes."

Co-workers at the fire department rallied around Beverly and worked shifts for him so that his recovery wouldn't eat up all his sick time, he said.

"Most of the members of this department worked many of my shifts so that I wouldn't have to lose all my sick time," he said. "That is something that I really appreciate."

The transplant was done at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass..

Beverly was able to return to work after about seven weeks of recovery time. Chevalier was able to return to work on a part-time basis about three months after the transplant. She resumed a full-time work schedule soon after beginning part-time hours, she said.

What Goes Around Comes Around

She takes medications every day, has regularly scheduled medical check-ups with a primary care physician and has yearly visits at the transplant center.

"With this transplant, I have my life back," she said. "I feel good. I can work, I can do more with my home life. Since the transplant, I realize that you don't always know how sick you were until you start feeling better."

Chevalier said that she is very grateful to her employers for helping her thank Beverly. The donation is a way to demonstrate a company -and a personal- commitment, she said.

"Our company motto is 'we protect those that protect us.'"

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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