August 19, 2014 at 2:42 PM
WEST ORANGE, NJ - In December 2013, Union Township Police Officer Dave Cuozzo's life nearly ended from a rare viral infection that has no cure.
Out shopping, Dave began to experience excruciating chest pains and called his wife Lisa. He was rushed to Morristown Memorial Hospital, and in a short span of time was completely paralyzed from the neck down. He was placed on a respirator and a frantic search began to discover the cause of the 25-year police veteran's rapid decline.
Doctors originally believed Cuozzo was suffering from Guillain Barre syndrome, a serious disorder caused when the body's immune system begins to attack part of the nervous system leading to nerve inflammation. Instead, a bizarre connection to Cuozzo's psoriasis that somehow lowered his immunity to a viral infection created a frightening condition called transverse myelitis.
Transverse myelitis, according to the Transverse Myelitis Association, is a "rare inflammatory disease causing injury to the spinal cord with varying degrees of weakness, sensory alterations, and autonomic dysfunction (the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary activity, such as the heart, breathing, the digestive system, and reflexes)." Only 1400 people worldwide contract TM each year. The prognosis remains uncertain for Cuozzo, who was able to only move his head side to side and just recently began moving his right hand. There is the possibility he will fully recover, or only partially recover, or not ever recover.
Cuozzo began his career with the Essex County Police and transferred to the Union Township Police Department a few years later. He resides in Madison with his wife Lisa, three daughters, ages 22,18, and 10; and a 14-year-old son who is also autistic.
He spent several weeks in Morristown Memorial Hospital and was transferred to Kessler Rehabilitation in West Orange. He was excited to make it back home in time for his daughter's senior prom and high school graduation, but is currently in a rehab facility in Dover recovering from a setback created by a severe bedsore.
Cuozzo's "brothers in blue" have rallied around him and his family in some pretty incredible ways. They are currently renovating the family's garage and creating a living space for Cuozzo that can accommodate him in his current condition. Lifts, ramps, a handicapped access bathroom, and a wheelchair that is powered by the movement of his head, are only some of the things that his fellow officers have been working on to help.
On Sept. 6, the Friends of Officer Cuozzo will hold a fund raiser to help offset the costs of renovations to the garage and medical costs. It will be held at the Knights of Columbus, 1034 Jeanette Ave. in Union, from 2 to 8 p.m. The donation is $25 for adults and $10 for children 16 and under, and includes hot and cold buffet dessert and beverages.
"Every business we've reached out to is donating and helping," said Officer Anthony Cavallo, who is spearheading the fundraiser with fellow officers and friends. "We have a TV, a Disney trip, barbershops, beauty parlors, gift certificates and more for the Tricky Tray and a 50/50 raffle. The community is really responding."
A DJ, band, and freestyle singer Judy Torres are also expected to entertain at the event.
For a police officer that has dedicated his life to helping others, it seems fitting that in his hour of need that his family, friends, and community are now rallying around Cuozzo and his family. When asked to describe the driving force behind the renovations, fundraisers, and support, Cavallo said, "He's part of our family. We band together."
To find out more about the fundraiser or to donate to the Friends of Officer Cuozzo, go to: