UHRICHSVILLE — A man who last week received a Carnegie Medal for citizen heroism for helping to pull a woman from a burning truck in 2016 now is fighting his own battle: esophageal cancer that has stolen his health and prevented him from working as a truck driver.
Vincent Santaniello, 57, has completed radiation and chemotherapy and expects to have surgery in March at the Cleveland Clinic.
“They seem to be pretty confident that we’re going to get it all out and I should recover 100 percent from it,” he said. “But they don’t know if I’ll be able to do all that bouncing around in a truck. That’s going to be a waiting game.”
Vincent and his wife, Karen, also are facing a June deadline to move from their home on Indian Hill Road SE near Claymont High School. The house is scheduled for demolition to allow for mining.
“It’s just everything at once,” said Karen, 55. “He was diagnosed the second week of November.”
“November was a really rough month for us,” Vincent said. “Karen found out her mother was dying and I had cancer, all within 48 hours. We didn’t know how bad it was. All we heard was Stage 3 esophageal cancer.”
“It just really kicked his butt,” said Karen. “He lost 70 pounds. He started chemo the day after Christmas.”
The treatment followed by two days the death of Karen’s mother, Ginger Swaim, with whom the couple lived. Karen had spent the two previous years caring for her mother, along with Swaim’s companion, Artie Jones. The Santaniellos need to move from the residence because Swaim had the right to live in the house for the rest of her life, an arrangement that dated to the time her late husband worked for the mining company more than a quarter of a century ago.
The cascade of challenges has left the Santaniellos without an income, but with household expenses that have doubled without Swaim’s contribution. Karen said she and her husband initially moved to the Indian Hill house to help Swaim with her expenses in 2010.
Karen said her husband had no disability insurance through his job. He is expected to receive Social Security disability benefits beginning in July. The checks will be half the amount of his previous wages.
“It’s just the finances,” Karen said. “All our eggs are in the basket of getting Social Security. We’re lucky to have a little bit of savings, and then this award.”
The Carnegie Medal comes with $5,000 intended by founder and industrialist Andrew Carnegie to buffer the financial harm individuals might suffer from trying to save others.
Santaniello and neighbor Harold “Buddy” Shaw each received a Carnegie Medal on Jan. 28 for pulling a woman from a burning truck she had crashed into a utility pole in front of their homes on Sept. 27, 2016.
Shaw accepted his medal in a ceremony at the Masonic Lodge in Dennison. Santaniello, who has been battling nausea and fatigue, received his at home with Karen and children Michael Jones and Michelle Cook.
“Vinny was unable to attend the ceremony because the treatments have left him too weak and too ill,” said Karen’s aunt, Jolene Limbacher of North Canton. “He is the epitome of bravery — this young man who saved a drunk driver has been fighting for his own life.”
The need to concentrate on health matters has caused Karen to put the search for a new home on the back burner. She expressed confidence she will be able to find a place by June. She holds no ill will toward her landlord, acknowledging that the house adjoins mining operations.
Vincent said the company, L & M Mineral, has been generous in giving him enough time to move from the house.
“The timing couldn’t have been worse, but we’ll be OK,” he said.
He gave credit to his wife for helping him get though his illness.
“If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I would be right now,” he said.
“How she copes every day is a mystery to me,” Limbacher said of her niece. “Amid everything else Karen and Vinny are going through, they are packing their belongings and looking for a new place to live. My sister’s constant companion, Artie Jones, who never left Ginger’s bedside, is helping once again.
“Vinny is such a wonderfully personable man, whose sense of humor has no bounds. It’s an honor to be around him. All of us are rooting for #vinnystrong!”