Tag Archive | "Alex Koehne"

Teaching a Passion for Helping

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web Pennies for Pushups_7802

By Emily J. Weitz

As kids make out their lists for Santa Claus and tick through the many things they want to receive, it’s an opportunity to also teach them the value of giving. And not just in a material way – the value of giving of your efforts and your heart. This is the idea behind AOKs at Epic Martial Arts. AOKs – or Acts of Kindness – are incorporated into the curriculum as kids work towards their black belt. And no matter how well they can kick and punch, they won’t be considered advanced martial artists until they learn how to give of themselves.

The idea of practicing AOKs is “part of martial arts philosophy,” says Sensei Michelle Del Giorno, who runs Epic Martial Arts.

“When you’re a black belt, you’re a leader in the community. The philosophy of martial arts is all about respect, and perseverance. We try to use these core values and apply them to everyday life. We’re taking our teachings out of the dojo and into the world by showing our kids how to be kind to each other.”

This kind of teaching helps kids deal with issues that come up as they grow older.

“It transcends against bullying, helps with self defense,” Del Giorno said.

Every class, Sensei Michelle brings the kids together for mat chat.

“We talk about things that are happening and whatever we’re focusing on that week,” says Del Giorno. “Because of the holidays, our focus is these Acts of Kindness. Chats change month to month, but right now we’re talking about what we can give back to the community.”

Each year at this time, Epic Martial Arts engages students in leadership projects as a way to teach these principles. This year, Del Giorno decided to work with Alex’s Promise, a foundation close to her heart.

“Alex’s mom, Lisa, works at the desk at the karate school, so all the kids know her,” says Del Giorno. “And they are longtime family friends of mine.”

Alex Koehne, the foundation’s namesake, was a young Sag Harbor resident who lost his battle with a rare form of cancer a few years back.

“We were all shocked and saddened by Alex’s passing at such a young age,” says Del Giorno. “But we’ve found a great way to give back.”

Koehne, for her part, finds the kids’ spirit for giving back heartening.

“This means so much to me and my husband, and our girls,” she said. “It means so much that these kids care about other kids who don’t have what they have. It’s great to see.”

At this time of year, dealing with the devastating loss of her son is particularly hard, and when she sees the community coming together in his name, “It makes me feel good,” she says. “I want people to remember him. Sometimes people don’t know what to say, but for me it helps when people talk openly about the child I lost.”

Alex’s Promise raises money for scholarships for graduating seniors at Pierson as well as for cancer research through St. Jude’s Hospital.

“Alex always loved helping children,” says Del Giorno. “He was like a big brother to a lot of cousins and he comes from a big family. Being the oldest of four, he was always helping the kids, and the foundation honors Alex’s memory by continuing that legacy.”

This year, Del Giorno and the students at Epic are participating in Push-Ups for Pennies, where participants will do one push-up for every penny donated to the organization. Del Giorno kicked it off on Thanksgiving by doing 1000 push-ups throughout the day. She filmed herself in action so kids and donors could tune in to her web feed to see how she was committing herself.

“I kept going into the bedroom at my mom’s and doing push-ups,” says Del Giorno. “Every couple hundred I’d do another update. In the middle of one of my push-up sets my cousin came in and was like, ‘Michelle, dinner!’”

By 11:45 p.m., she had finished 1,000 push-ups, and now she’s asking the kids to join her. In sets of 25, even the four-year-olds are joining in.

“They all feel like they’re giving in some way,” says Del Giorno. “It’s exciting.”

And they are. Not only that, but they are loving it. When asked if they’d like to contribute to this article, the kids lined up to weigh in on why this is such an important cause.

Tori Markowski, Sara Schoen, and Lili Knibb, who are ages 8 and 9, wanted to share how good it makes them feel to help children in the hospital. Simone Batiste, age 9, feels strongly because of a personal connection to the cause.

“My friend had cancer and she was in 7th grade when she died,” she says, “and I like to help.”

Jhoziel and Erik Guanga, brothers, feel like they’re really making a difference.

Colin Harrison, age 8, says that “Each push up we do is worth a penny, and so far we’ve got $200. All that goes to St. Jude’s, which helps kids with cancer and other diseases.”

Carson Tompkins, age 8, really likes it “because it gets kids exercise and it’s for a good cause. You’re not just doing exercise,” he explains, “but you’re giving to kids who are less fortunate. My mom won’t give to Cheetah Serve or special fabric making companies, but she will give to St. Jude’s. This one is special.”

Johnny Nill, who just celebrated his 8th birthday, is Alex Koehne’s cousin. He was a toddler when he lost his older cousin, but he still remembers him.

“It’s a lot of work and it’s hard,” he says of the push-ups, “but I do it for Alex, and for the kids who are in the hospital. I remember Alex.”

To make a donation to Push-Ups for Pennies or Alex’s Promise, stop by Epic Martial Arts at 75 Main Street in Sag Harbor, or go to http://www.hicksvillekarate.com/sagharborny/ or www.alexspromise.org.

Family Joins Suit Over Son’s Donated Organs

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When Lisa Koehne’s son Alex lay in a bed at Stony Brook University Hospital two years ago this month, she sensed there was something wrong other than what the doctors were telling her. Alex, had been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and after 17 days at the hospital, died on March 30, 2007.

But what Lisa and her husband Jim learned weeks later was that it was actually a rare and extremely aggressive form of cancer — anaplastic central nervous system T-cell lymphoma — that took their son’s life.

To compound their grief, they learned several months later that two of four patients who received organs from Alex had died, the organs themselves infected with the cancer.

Beginning early last year, lawyers for all four organ recipients started a series of suits against the medical center as well as Southampton Hospital, where Alex had been treated initially as an emergency patient, and where meningitis was first diagnosed by Dr. Robert Semlear, the family physician at the time, who is also named in the suit.

This week the Koehnes also joined the suit, arguing simply, the doctors and hospitals should have done more.

“We never got any answers from Stony Brook or Southampton,” said Jim Koehne in an interview Tuesday.

“We knew we would have to give depositions, and we asked ourselves if we wanted to go through this all again,” said Jim. “And we said, ‘yes we do, we want to know what happened’.”

Also named in the claims, which allege negligence in Alex’s misdiagnosis, are New York University Hospital and one of its physicians, Dr. Thomas Diflo, who performed one of the transplants, and doctors Kimberly Fenton, Salma Syed, Daniel Sloniewski and Mary Anderson — all associated with Stony Brook — and neurologist Norman Pflaster, of Southampton.

Alex was initially admitted to Southampton Hospital by Dr. Semlear, where he stayed for a week, and was released with antibiotics and pain killers, according to Mr. Koehne. Then days later, Alex’s extreme pain and sudden seizures drove the family to take him to Stony Brook, where doctors maintained the same bacterial meningitis diagnosis.

Southampton Hospital spokesperson Marsha Kenny said the hospital does not comment on issues of litigation.

Lauren Sheprow, spokesperson for Stony Brook University Medical Center responded “we do not comment on matters before the court or on any specific patient due to state and federal patient privacy laws.”

She added: “In general, every matter that involves organ donations or transplantation at SBUMC is handled according to the guidelines of UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing), which has federal authority over organ donation and transplantation in the U.S., and New York Organ Donor Network, the local authority over organ donation as designated by UNOS.”

“Every organ donation case by its very nature is surrounded by tragic circumstances, and we grieve with families as they struggle to make a very personal and private decision at a very painful time,” she wrote in an email. “We admire the strength, compassion and commitment of those who help save the life of another through donation, even as they are suffering the pain of the loss of their own loved one.”

The firm of Dankner & Milstein initiated the first claim in January 2008 on behalf of Gerardo Trueba of the Bronx, who received one of Alex’s kidneys. The other kidney recipient was James Kelly of Mount Sinai, L.I. Both men, after learning of the true diagnosis, had the donated kidneys — which had been infected with cancer — removed. Both men underwent chemotherapy, which appears to have been successful said Adam Kauffman, an associate at Dankner & Millstein. Both men, however, also are on dialysis, and probably will be for life, he said.

The other recipients included Kitman Lee, a 52-year old hepatitis B cirrhosis patient of Brooklyn, who received Alex’s liver at NYU Medical Center. He also contracted the same cancer that killed Alex and died 116 days later. The recipient of Alex’s pancreas, 36-year old Jodie Lynn Shierts of Pequot Lakes, who had type 1 diabetes mellitus, had the donated pancreas removed, but died as a result of lymphoma.

The complaints allege that the hospitals failed to rule out meningitis through tests, the long onset of Alex’s illness, and the failure of antibiotics to cure it, and failed to seek any other cause for the illness. In addition, the complaints say the organs were released without confirmation of cause of death.

The Koehnes’ complaint is based on “the failure to diagnose their son’s true condition,” said firm partner Edward Milstein.

“As a result, their son didn’t receive treatment,” said Milstein, “he didn’t have the chance to benefit from treatment.”

Milstein added, however, they are not alleging that, even if Alex had received a prompt diagnosis or treatment, he would have survived.

Jim Koehne remembered this week when they were standing by their son at Stony Brook, his wife Lisa looking at Alex’s eyes and noting how one eye rolled a different way.

“’There’s something else wrong’,” he remembers her saying.

It was a mother’s intuition he felt was ignored.

 “I really feel the diagnosis was handled incorrectly,” said Mr. Koehne. “They could have looked in a different direction.”

Mr. Koehne acknowledges the cancer was so virulent that he and his family may never have had much more time with Alex.

“But even if it was another day, or two days,” said Mr. Koehne. “And Lisa could have said goodbye to her son.”

Above: Jim and Lisa Koehne remember their son Alex with a foundation, Alex’s Promise, which raises money for brain cancer research. Last year they were able to donate $10,000 to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.



Letters March 12, 2009

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Class Warfare


To the Editor,

Millions of words have been exchanged trying to fix the bailout. Meanwhile golden parachutes litter the sky and bonuses still survive. Slap me five, five million or five billion, in the language of Wall Street. An addiction hard to break, now it’s too late.

Confusion, fear and doubt are the signs of our time. Brother can you spare me a dime? Money is our bottom line, we haven’t reached it yet. No one has the answer, no one has the answer. Maybe we need to identify the problem — class warfare.

Politicians, the wealthy and the elite keep their money by insulating themselves from the poor. The minimum wage of five dollars and fifteen cents remained the same for ten years. An insult to human dignity. For the average workers, salaries have gone down for the last thirty years or more, slaves of Capitalism. Welfare for the poor is scrutinized, corporate welfare is subsidized. Tax cuts, tax cuts, why are we surprised?

Ironically, Congress actually got rid of the usury law in 1980, which was supposed to protect the poor from the power of the wealthy. I asked a former congressman, “Why are we so afraid of the poor?” He shot back “Because there are so many of them.”

Class warfare has been with us for a long time. Have you ever heard the term class warfare mentioned in Congress or our government? How many times have you heard reference to the American Dream?

In peace,

Larry Darcey

Sag Harbor


Remembering Alex


Dear Bryan,

 Jim and I and the girls would like to thank our wonderful community for all they have done for us, in our time of sorrow. It will be two years since our son Alex died and we have spent each day trying to grasp and understand why he died.

We have been through many trials in the past two years no family should endure. We would have not gotten through  without the love and support from this community. You have all been there when we organized fundraisers, to contribute and your money has helped many.

We gave to the YARD program, and also to the Cassidy Hagerman Scholarship, the Jordan Haerter Fund, and finally we were able to present St. Judes Childrens hospital a large check of $10,000 to help in their research of brain cancer. Jim and I traveled to Memphis, and were given a tour of this wonderful place. It was humbling. Maybe one day they will find a way to detect this cancer, and to treat it.

We are also able to present our scholarship at this year’s graduation. All these things are what keep us going. Alex so loved life and all it had to offer; to remember him and live life to the fullest is what he would have wanted. March 29th we will be remembering Alex on his second anniversary in Heaven, at the 5:30 teen Mass at St. Andrews. I invite you all to this Mass, and share in his love of God. May you all be blessed with the love you give when you need it.

Thank you again

Lisa and Jim Koehne

Sag Harbor


Teachers Disconnected


Dear Editor,

I am a 30-year resident and property taxpayer.

I attended the informational presentation given by our local Teachers Association, hoping to inform myself about the issues concerning the salary and benefit negotiations. I was surprised that only very few people attended. I would say less than half a dozen were from the general public. That may be a result of the original meeting date being canceled on short notice. I found this out when I showed up, only to see the cancellation notice on the door.

The arguments for the top range of increase were not persuasive. The speakers exhibited a disconnect to what the rest of the community is going through. I guess nobody on this panel listens to Public Radio, where we learn of layoffs and pay cuts in N.Y. and across the nation.

I thought they might have noticed the disappearance of the trade parade or felt the rapid weight loss of our local papers. The East Hampton Star has instituted a 20% work hour reduction for their entire staff. Lumber yards are cutting staff. All the local governments are scrambling to close budget shortfalls. Politicians are voting their own pay cuts.

No accommodations to reflect these hard facts were offered. I would have thought that job security alone would suggest to the Teachers Association that they might entertain taking a step back. If budgets are not brought under control, what is left at the end is, you guessed it, job cuts.

The Teachers Association talks of real estate value to budget ratio, as though that should make us feel better. They then propose that their demands should be met as an appropriate gesture of appreciation for their effort to educate our children.

Might I suggest that this important job also includes teaching our children about community responsibility? If we don’t all make sacrifices when faced with this unprecedented financial meltdown, our children will not appreciate their teacher’s sincerity if in fact the school administration insists on being the last man left standing.

I would like to close with the obligatory thanks to everybody who is doing a wonderful job for doing what they were hired for.

Anthony Hagen

Sag Harbor


Attack on Capital Budget


Dear Bryan,

In response to your editorial of February 26 (“Ease the Confusion”), I would like to explain our two track attack on reconciling the Capital Budget.  Because the Board said, and rightly so, that it would not approve any Capital funding for 2009 until it knew the status of each capital project, we initiated these weekly briefings as track one.  The status of each capital project is the only objective of the weekly briefings.  Some are bored or frustrated with this lengthy process, yet I know of no other valid way of achieving consensus on future funding for important and time sensitive projects such as road paving and drainage improvements.

Track number two involves “reconciling” the revenue and expenses of the entire capital budget going back several years.  While the “checkbook” analogy works for the operating budget, it is not that cut and dry for the capital budget.  Is better bookkeeping needed in the future?  You bet and that is our goal for the future.  In fact, several changes have already taken place.

I’m trying to avoid the appearance of making excuses because, clearly, changes are necessary to assure the public that the capital budget is a reliable document.  In the meantime, I know of no “bombshells” that are being hidden except that we all wish we could get to the answer faster.  I hope, however, that we will not give an answer until we know the answer is correct.  To make any declarations until we have fully vetted all 180 capital accounts could be a disaster.  It is the comprehensive review and analysis that is time consuming.

 Unfortunately, while this controversy is about the Capital Budget, residents can get the impression that all of the town’s finances are in disarray.  That is simply not true.  The 2009 operating budget is balanced and as long as anticipated revenues like permit fees and mortgage tax proceeds come in as expected, we will end the year balanced.  By the way, the town’s 2009 operating budget is the most readable and understandable operating budget I have ever seen.  Any town resident can look at it on-line and judge for themselves.  From our side of the table, it can be frustrating that there is so much emphasis on what is wrong without a note or two about what is right. 

The naysayer will mock that statement.  Naysayers do not concern me, for I have written this to those readers who are willing to listen to both sides of the story.  Let the results of the soon to be released audit of the town’s Community Preservation Fund (CPF) by the New York State Comptroller’s Office be a test case.  The town has been a good steward with this multi-million dollar program and we know the state audit will show that to be true.  So, while we have work to do on managing the capital budget all of the town’s finances are not in disarray.   

Thank you.

Bill Jones, Deputy Supervisor 

Town of Southampton  

Alex’s Promise To Help Others

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A son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew, a cousin, a friend, an actor, and a football player – there are a number of ways family, friends and the community remember Alex Koehne, but one constant memory of the 15-year-old Sag Harbor resident was his propensity for helping others.

Following Alex’s tragically quick death in March of 2007 of non-Hodgkins large T-cell lymphoma, his parents, Jim and Lisa Koehne created the Alex’s Promise Foundation. This Saturday, November 29 from 6 to 10 p.m., the foundation will host its second annual Christmas Kick-off Party at JLX Bistro on Main Street, Sag Harbor. The event will feature a “Too Good to be True” raffle, as well as hors d’oeuvres, a buffet and a cash bar.

The foundation’s mission is to carry on Alex’s own desire to help people by supporting local youth through scholarship opportunities geared towards those involved in Alex’s passions – sports, theatre and community service – as well as organizations like St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. The proceeds from Saturday’s event will go solely towards a donation to St. Jude’s from the Alex’s Promise Foundation.

“Jim and I are actually flying down to Memphis on December 12, 13 and 14 to tour the hospital, meet some of the kids and give them a check from the event,” said Lisa Koehne on Tuesday.

Koehne said she learned of the work St. Jude’s – a pediatric treatment and research facility that focuses on cancer and other catastrophic diseases that inflict children worldwide – after Alex’s death.

“The biggest thing that set us towards trying to help St. Jude’s is when we learned that if your child is sick and you go to St. Jude’s for treatment, all the services are free,” said Koehne. “Learning that, knowing that their research facility and children’s hospital are some of the best in the country, we knew we wanted to help. If they can find out what happens with some of these diseases, maybe one more kid won’t suffer.”

The Koehne’s are also finalizing plans for the 2009 scholarship in Alex’s name, which will be for $5,000, and will be awarded to a student holding at least a B average, who is involved in sports, theatre, or most importantly, community service.

“Next year will be the year he would have graduated,” said Koehne of 2010. “So we are hoping we will be able to offer something bigger, maybe two scholarships. That would be the hope.”

For more information on Saturday’s event to benefit Alex’s Promise Foundation, or to donate visit www.alexspromise.org or e-mail webmaster@alexspromise.org.