NAUGATUCK — Firefighter Tim Andrew had planned to run the Empire State Building stair race four months ago to benefit Bob Veillette, his friend and neighbor who has been paralyzed for six years from a brain-stem stroke.
Then Andrew, 59, got cancer. His tonsil was removed in July after a lump was found on it. Lymph nodes came out in September, and Andrew in October began a series of 27 radiation treatments.
“I’m in good shape now,” Andrew said. “I should be good for Mount Washington.”
Despite his bout with disease, Andrew will run the Mount Washington Road Race on June 16 to raise money for Veillette’s home health aides and medical supplies. He is asking sponsors to send donations to the Special Needs Trust at Naugatuck Savings Bank, a fund to benefit Veillette, the Republican-American’s former managing editor.
Veillette, who lives on Timothy Road, was an avid runner before his stroke. Andrew, who lives on Millville Avenue, often crossed paths with Veillette as they both ran around the same neighborhood, and decades ago the two ran side by side in the Litchfield Hills Road Race.
The Mount Washington race, held every year on the 6,300-foot peak in New Hampshire, involves a 4,700-foot uphill run. Andrew has run it three times before. The last time, five years ago, he raced to raise money for Easter Seals of Greater Waterbury.
Andrew said he hopes to be in the top 400 of the 1,000 runners who will race. To train, he has been running up and down Horton Hill Road five times a day.
He might be happy to run Mount Washington, but Andrew called the borough’s notoriously steep road off Route 63 “unbelievable.”
Andrew said he raised $6,000 last year when he ran the Empire State Building race for Veillette for the second time. Veillette’s personality, his musical talents and the piano recitals he played for charity earned Andrew’s respect.
“He was the perfect individual, perfect human being,” Andrew said. “He raised a beautiful family.”
Veillette’s stroke left him with a condition called “locked-in syndrome,” which allows him to think and feel as he used to, although he can barely move. For years he has only been able to communicate using his eyes. His wife Bonnie and other caretakers read the alphabet to him, and he looks up when they hit the right letter, eventually spelling out words.
Veillette eventually gained the ability to “type” for himself using a software program that allows him to choose letters by raising his eyebrows as a cursor scrolls through them. He has regained a slight movement in his right index finger. After a sensor was implanted in his brain last year, he became just the second person in the world to move a robotic arm simply by imagining it.
He still needs expensive round-the-clock care, and Bonnie Veillette, 63, has health problems of her own after a hip replacement surgery.
Bonnie Veillette said she was pleasantly surprised that Andrew would even think of continuing to race for her husband, given his recent battle with cancer.
“We’re so lucky in our community to have Tim,” Bonnie Veillette said. “He just keeps doing for others, all the time.”
To donate, send checks to the Robert D. Veillette Special Needs Trust, attn: Brian DeVito, at Naugatuck Savings Bank, 251 Church St., Naugatuck CT 06770. To help the bank track Andrew’s fundraising, indicate in the memo line that the donation is related to the race.