High-schooler's spirit inspired community

Hladky family, friends remember teen-ager who wouldn't give up

November 07, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Gregory C. Hladky began his battle against leukemia two years ago, and before long, his high school, church, baseball league, parents' co-workers and the Carroll County community had joined him and his family in the effort to save his life.

The 17-year-old South Carroll High senior died of complications from acute myelogenic leukemia Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He had been hospitalized there since April, after receiving a bone marrow transplant.

From bone marrow drives and fund-raising activities to meals and yard work, his Sykesville neighborhood helped Gregory and his family in every way.

"All this makes you feel really good about yourself," Greg said in an interview six months ago. "All these people who don't even know me, but they are helping me."

Students donated the proceeds from dances, plays and the sale of "Be a Life Saver" T-shirts to the Greg Hladky fund. Most plan to wear those bright yellow shirts to school tomorrow in honor of their classmate.

"All we had to say was `fund-raiser for Greg Hladky' and people donated," said Pam Boan, a South Carroll guidance counselor.

"Greg got the school to rally behind him and really brought the school together," said John O'Meally, chemistry teacher. "That is what the students will remember most about him."

O'Meally came to expect e-mail from Greg, asking for notes, tests, anything the senior honor student might have missed. He was determined to keep up with his school work and maintain his straight-A grades, his family said. His record will stand at the top of the Class of 2000.

"He was still doing his school work until recently," said Principal David Booz. "He was a positive, wonderful young man and his faith was extremely strong."

South Carroll High organized a bone marrow drive in May that added more than 150 names to the national register, a cause that became paramount to Gregory.

"The drive meant the most to him, because he knew how it would help others," George Hladky said of his son. "He met a lot of people with leukemia and he knew how critically they needed donors. He was more concerned about them than about himself."

Chances of finding a match are about 1 in 20,000, said Nancy Hladky, Greg's mother. The search for a donor for Greg was expanded to international lists and a close match was located in England.

"The drive let people know," Nancy Hladky said. "Look how many people in South Carroll now know."

"Gregory wanted to let everybody know that it is so easy to become a donor; it's a simple blood test," said Marilyn Riddle, his aunt.

All the efforts on his behalf inspired Greg, said his father. "It helped all of us. Knowing that many people cared for him and were praying for him gave Gregory the courage and the will to go on. He believed in the power of prayer and in the power of people. He really believed that he would get through this," he said.

The family dubbed him "Never Say Never Gregory" for his tenacity and determination. He would endure hours of physical therapy hoping to get his strength back and endless procedures to ward off complications.

"Anybody else would have given up," said George Hladky. "But, Gregory was not a quitter. He would ask the doctors, `What else do you want me to do?' Until his last breath, he still felt he was going to beat this. I don't think he ever gave up."

Stan Frey, warden at St. Stephen's Reformed Episcopal Church, where Gregory was a member of the youth group and the choir, said, "The Lord had a different idea in mind than we did for this story.

"But one young man's life brought so many people together and got us closer and more involved. As we watched Greg and his family go through this ordeal, we could put aside the little things that bother us and think how blessed we truly are."

For obituary, see page 20B.

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