A Willoughby man who usually fights fires is now fighting for his life. Doctors diagnosed Willoughby Firefighter and EMT Seamus Culligan with a brain tumor, earlier this year. The treatment took the husband and father of three off the job, but he’s now closer than ever with the firefighters who never left his side.
January 5 was a normal day at Station 1 in Willoughby, except for when Seamus Culligan realized something was wrong. He had a terrible headache and his blood pressure was through the roof.
Fellow firefighter and friend Rick Mulhern was on duty and transported Seamus to the hospital.
A CT scan would reveal a golf ball-sized tumor in Seamus’ brain. It was a devastating diagnosis, especially for someone so beloved.
At 19 years old, Seamus moved to America from Ireland to attend school. He met and married Cyndie, had three children and became a citizen.
“Anytime he sees somebody needing help he goes to help them,” Cyndie said.
She says she has to stop him from fixing things at neighbors’ houses. After 9/11 Seamus drove to New York City to help at Ground Zero. He’d been a firefighter for nearly 20 years when this illness took him off the job.
“From that very moment when they told us what was happening, we decided we were just gonna go with the treatment and get better,” said Cyndie.
As Seamus underwent surgery, proton therapy and chemo, he and Cyndie were not alone -- far from it.
“It was the hardest thing I ever went through in my entire life and these guys looked me in the face the first day that it happened and they said that they weren’t gonna leave our side and they didn’t,” she said.
The firefighters organized. They slept in shifts, two a at a time, on Seamus’ hospital room floor. Cyndie even started serving beer to visitors to keep the mood light.
“There was always multiple guys there. Sometimes two, sometimes a dozen,” said Seamus.
Dozens of firefighters from Willoughby and across Northern Ohio scheduled meal delivery and hospital rides, organized fundraisers and took the kids skiing. They designed bracelets and t-shirts to sell.
Rick Mulhern created this GoFundMe account.
Firefighters are diagnosed with cancer at three times the rate of the general public and the local fire community has felt this burn before. Beachwood Fire Capt. Mike Palumbo was diagnosed with brain cancer in October of 2015. Before his death on May 24, 2017, the husband and father of five took his fight to the state capitol, helping to pass a bill with his name. Signed in January, one day before Seamus’ diagnosis, it allows firefighters to file workers compensation claims for cancer. Although, Ohio House Republicans are currently trying to make changes to that bill. The details are complicated, but firefighter George Ward is in touch with legislators about whether Seamus will benefit.
“They feel that Seamus will qualify under the law as it is today and if any amendments take place. He should be granted the ability to file a claim on this,” said Ward.
Seamus has six more months of treatment. But when it’s over, he knows what he’s looking forward to most.
“Number one, seeing the guys,” he said holding back tears.
“It is a brotherhood. We are brothers,” said Mulhern.
With a little bit of Irish luck and a lot of brotherly love, this is another battle fought as a team.
Last year, firefighters organized a pub crawl in Willoughby for Mike Palumbo. It was a huge success. Thousands of people showed up. This year, money from the 2nd Annual Palumbo Pub Crawl will go to Seamus and his family.
If you'd like to buy a t-shirt, bracelet or just make a donation in person you can do so at the Willoughby Fire Department at 37000 Euclid Avenue.