MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Denise Russell only had nine days’ worth of heart medicine left, but because she wasn’t able to pay off the balance on her medical bills, her health-care provider wouldn’t allow her to see a doctor or renew her prescription.

More than six years ago, Russell, who co-owns Crossroads Deli in Mahopac, was diagnosed with cancer. She went through the requisite treatments, including chemo, which weakened her body so much that she suffered a heart attack.

“We were struggling [financially] after the diagnosis,” she said.

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Russell said it came down to a choice between having her home foreclosed on, or paying her medical bills. She kept the house.

But as a result, her health-care provider wouldn’t treat her until she caught up on her bills. But exactly how much she owed became confusing and communication between her and the provider became increasingly convoluted.

“It was a mess,” Russell said. “It was very frustrating. You just kind of shut down. Part of it was definitely my fault. But I was forced into having to choose between keeping my house or seeing a doctor.”

As the owner of Crossroads Deli, Russell was also a member of the Greater Mahopac/Carmel Chamber of Commerce. It was through Chamber member Bill Pope that Russell was introduced to Richard Senato, president and founder of Love Holds Life, a nonprofit organization created to help individuals and their families in the Hudson Valley and New York Metro area who are battling cancer by providing financial support for their medical treatments and other expenses not covered by insurance. 

Senato told Russell that Love Holds Life would pay off her debt (which, in the end, came to just under $700). However, Russell needed to get in to see a doctor immediately and get her heart medication prescription refilled. So Senato used some connections he had to pave the way for Russell to see a doctor and get her pills. Love Holds Life then fulfilled its promise to pay off her bill.

Russell, who has been cancer-free for six years now, can’t say enough about Senato and the help his organization gave her.

“He’s an angel working on Earth,” she said. “He’s always happy and has a smile on his face. He has so much energy.”

Maggie Karaqi agrees with Russell. A single mom who recently moved to Mahopac, Karaqi has been fighting ovarian and fallopian tube cancer.

“My cancer came back [in 2015], but I wasn’t aware of it,” she explained. “My doctor failed to look at the CAT scan.”

As a result, Karaqi’s treatment was delayed. Her doctors at Montefiore Medical Center told her there was little they could do, so she switched to Sloan-Kettering Hospital, where last February, she had a tumor removed. But like Russell, she also suffered a heart attack and then mounting bills—not just medical bills, but car payments and utility bills as well.

Karaqi’s introduction to Senato was serendipitous. They met at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Westchester County where Love Holds Life was conducting a fundraising event.

“I told him I know the feeling of going through tough times, and he asked me if I had a loved one dealing with cancer,” Karaqi recalled. “I said, ‘yeah, me.’ I went through it.”

Karaqi was behind on her car payments, her Con Ed bill was due and she was in the middle of preparing to move from the Bronx to Mahopasc. Not long after, Senato presented her with a check for $1,000 to help her with those bills.

“It was like, ‘Wow!’” she said. “We cried a lot. I called my mom and said, ‘Can you believe this?’ I paid my Con Ed bill!”

Next, Shari Zimmerman, proprietor of the Grimaudo-Zimmerman Allstate Agency, stepped up and donated $1,000 to Love Holds Life, which in turn passed it on to Karaqi.

Karaqi is still fighting her cancer, but her outlook is much brighter than it was a year ago. And not having to worry as much about her bills has reduced her stress, which can only help with her recovery.

“I am a single mom and I am just so grateful,” Karaqi said.