When they heard of Carol Linton's illness, members of the Ferndale Volunteer Fire Department turned their lifesaving skills in a new direction and vowed to give the toddler every possible chance.
The 2-year-old daughter of two volunteer firefighters had been diagnosed in late March with neuroblastoma, a tumor of the nerve cells that spreadfrom her abdomen to the orbit of her right eye.
Doctors offered hope. In most cases they can cure the rare form of cancer, they told Ken and Cheryl Linton of Glen Burnie.
So when fellow firefighters learned that lack of health insurance could jeopardize Carol's recovery, "We started raising hell," said Ed Wilson, a 35-year veteran of the volunteer force.
Since Ken Linton runs his own air freight delivery service and can't afford to buy his own insurance, the family relied on a plan through Cheryl Linton's job. She worked as a courier with Systems Services Inc. a Glen Burnie-based temporary agency. But the company stopped paying for the plan last September, just before Linton gave birth to the couple's daughter Diane, now 6 months old. Linton has quit to take care of Carol.
The bills quickly piled up. Already, the family owes $20,000 for Carol's initial, weeklong hospital stay and some $900 for various tests.
Wilson,his wife, Barbara, and Sylvia Gordon, all Ferndale Fire Department members, decided to tackle the family's financial problems by setting up a special fund at Maryland National Bank.
"When somebody in thefamily is in need, everybody jumps on it at once and goes all out for it," Wilson said. "We believe in taking care of our own."
While members often give their time to the community, he couldn't recall past efforts on such a large scale.
So far, donations ranging from $5 to $100 and totaling $7,600 have poured into the Carol Linton Fund.Most have come from individuals, some of whom have cancer themselvesor who have lost family members to the disease, Wilson said.
"We're getting so many wonderful letters," Cheryl Linton said. "It's really something. I just wish I could thank each and every one of them individually. They don't know how much it means. Their support and prayers have been overwhelming."
Wilson hopes the momentum continues.
"I don't think we'll ever reach enough to pay the bill in its entirety," he said.
Friends plan other benefits.
* A dance is set for 9 p.m. May 24 at the Fountainbleu in Glen Burnie. Tickets will be $10.
* A second dance, featuring The Sentries, is set for June 29 at the Columbian Center in Glen Burnie. Tickets will be $15.
* Theintermediate students at Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School have collected $1,200 for the fund. Carol's sisters, Julie and Beth Hartig, attend the school as fifth- and fourth-level intermediate students.Anyone may donate by sending checks in Carol's name to branches of Maryland National Bank.
* Allstate Insurance Co.raised money for Carol with a carwash last weekend.
When Carol first got sick, the Lintons thought she was coming down with the flu. The family's physician prescribed antibiotics, then sent Carol for blood tests. Her abdomen, liver and spleen were swollen and her blood counts had dropped.
Pediatricians at St. Joseph's Hospital in Baltimore suspected cancerand sent her to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where doctors discovered the tumor. They began chemotherapy. Doctors are optimistic they can cure Carol with a year of monthly treatments, blood infusions and a bonemarrow transplant.
Aside from vomiting occasionally, Carol has perked up lately and her appetite has returned. She plays hospital withher doll, mimicking doctors and nurses from Johns Hopkins, where shegoes for treatment.
Carol surprised her mother by approaching herwith these words: "Mommy, my baby has cancer."
To Carol, cancer means "something that makes you sick," Linton says. "They say it's good she's acting this out.
"She still has a very good chance. They can't promise us she'll be perfectly cured. We live day to day."