Officer overcomes odds to return to duty

Naugatuck police Officer Danielle Parady is back on the job more than a year after being diagnosed with advanced, agressive cancer in her brain and stomach. –RA ARCHIVE
Naugatuck police Officer Danielle Parady is back on the job more than a year after being diagnosed with advanced, agressive cancer in her brain and stomach. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — She collapsed next to her patrol car in August 2011 in the Walmart parking lot. Doctors found cancer in her lungs and brain. They told her she had four months to live. The Naugatuck Police Department held fundraisers and held its breath.

A year and a half later, lighted police cars escorted Officer Danielle Parady down Spring Street for her first day back at work.

“I feel normal,” Parady said. “I don’t know if normal is the right word or not. Lucky.”

Parady, now 41, stopped working after she first fell ill but did not leave the department. She used her accumulated sick time, then sick time donated by other police officers and firefighters, while being treated at the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.

She is still undergoing chemotherapy and radiation but said she feels well enough that her doctor finally agreed to let her work again, as long as she is confined to light administrative tasks.

“I’ve been asking him all year,” Parady said. “I like doing what I do.”

Parady said she has a type of melanoma that only grows inside the body. Doctors have tried different types of chemotherapy, some experimental, and Parady has undergone six surgeries, including two to her brain.

At one point, the cancer spread to her stomach and lower intestine, but those tumors were removed, Parady said.

Although she has surpassed expectations, Parady said her prognosis is essentially the same. She will start radiation this week for her lungs, but said that is not expected to cure the cancer.

“They’re happy it’s been all this time, but nothing has gone away, nothing’s shrunk, so right now it’s kind of day by day,” Parady said.

Parady’s first day back at work was Feb. 4. She said she was happy to be on the job again but not completely satisfied. Although she is allowed to drive between work and her borough home, she cannot drive a patrol car yet or help make arrests.

“I’m hoping, in time, something will work out and I’ll be able to get back out there,” Parady said.

Parady has been praised as an exemplary officer over nearly six years with the department, winning the Naugatuck Exchange Club’s award for Officer of the Year mere months before she became sick. Her undercover work led police to catch scores of suspected child sex predators and drug dealers, according to Chief of Police Christopher Edson. She worked for the New Haven Police Department for more than two years before joining the borough force.

She is a single mother to her 13-year-old daughter, Taya, who attends St. Francis-St. Hedwig School and is figuring out where to attend high school next year, Parady said.

As she never left the police department, Parady said she was able to keep her health insurance, which has paid for most of her treatment. Fundraisers held by police, firefighters and other friends are helping Parady to pay the difference and set aside money in the event she runs out of paid sick leave or has to quit her job. The police department’s last fundraiser helped pay for Taya’s Christmas presents.

Parady’s sudden and severe illness shocked borough police officers, even though they have accepted the possibility of being hurt or killed in the line of duty, said Lt. Bryan Cammarata.

“It’s hit everybody very hard,” Cammarata said. “We see somebody that we work with every day get hit with this, just out of the blue, and it makes you realize … that’s not the big thing that we fear every day.”

Officers are excited, but not surprised, that Parady has come back, Cammarata said.

“Anything that Danielle Parady does, I don’t think would surprise any of us,” Cammarata said. “Her inner strength is just unbelievable. Her attitude toward what she’s been going through is nothing short of miraculous.”