Chicago heroes stand up

Heart of the 'hood

08/29/2012 10:00 PM

Felicia Dechter

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Gold Coaster Jonny Imerman, founder of Imerman Angels.

Gold Coaster Jonny Imerman was just a kid, 26 years old, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. While in the hospital, Imerman noticed that a lot of people seemed to be facing cancer alone. It was because of this that in 2002 he started Imerman Angels, a nonprofit providing one-on-one support among cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers.

Now 37, Imerman is a two-time survivor of the disease, and his devoted “angels” are a brotherhood and sisterhood who are tirelessly helping cancer-afflicted folks of all ages. Last week, Imerman was recognized as a 2012 CNN Hero. Check out the YouTube video about it, “CNN Hero: Jonny Imerman.” In it, Imerman says “My goal was to get in there and motivate patients so that they wanted to jump out of their chemo bed and literally start swinging at this thing.”

“It’s an amazing feeling for Imerman Angels to be honored by CNN!” Imerman told me. “This is absolutely a team award, at this very moment survivors across the world are sharing their stories and friendship to help another person in the same cancer fight.”

Regular readers of this column know I lost my mom to cancer, and new news is that my dad is now battling pancreatic cancer. What Imerman does is not only incredible, but also inspiring. Thanks Jonny, and congrats!

Another Skyline-area champion is Access Living’s Curtis Harris, a Near North Sider who on Aug. 22 passionately testified in front of the Chicago Public Schools Board. Harris was the first student with autism enrolled in CPS — starting in January 1984, he spent six years in LeMoyne Elementary School’s autistic program, then another three at Agassiz Elementary School. Harris graduated from Steinmetz High School as one of the first participants in the Severe/Profound Autism Inclusion Program, and by junior year, he had successfully integrated into mainstream classes. He has also completed two years at Columbia College, so he and I have something in common as we’re both LeMoyne and Columbia alums.

The 2013 CPS budget eliminates approximately 27 positions, about 4.5 percent of its autism resources. Harris is fighting CPS to stop the proposed “devastating” cuts at a time when he says the autism rate is 1 out of 88.

“Cuts to [the] autism program will have a severe impact on schools,” said Harris. “Students who have been progressing will regress to abnormal anti-social behaviors or get involved with criminal activity that will land them in jail or prison. … It’s not right for the Board of Education to cut the autistic program when autism is on the rise.”

Sincerest condolences… to the family of Dee Brody, who served as an aldermanic aide to three former 43rd Ward aldermen and was appointed to superintendent of Streets and Sanitation in the ward by Mayor Richard Daley.

Dee’s memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m., Aug. 30 at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, Michigan Avenue at Delaware Place. I know she has a lot of friends in the ward that will surely miss her.

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