Gerald “Jerry” Chiano, a veterans’ advocate and Valley Stream resident, died after years of battling bile duct cancer on Nov. 19 at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He was 68.
“I really will miss him,” said his friend Anne Marie Allocca. “He fought so hard ’til the end.”
Since Chiano was diagnosed with the disease more than three years ago, he gained notoriety for his advocacy for research into the disease and its correlation with serving in the Vietnam War. Chiano served in the Navy Construction Battalion from 1968 to 1969, and said at a July news conference that he and many others who served often swam and bathed in the rivers, which may have contained water-borne parasites called liver flukes that can create tumors inside the bile ducts.
When asked about Chiano’s passing, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who attended the news conference alongside Chiano, said in an emailed statement to the Herald that his thoughts and prayers are with the family, and that he was impressed by Chiano’s service.
“On behalf of Jerry, the Chiano family, and all veterans suffering from Bile Duct Cancer, I will continue to fight tooth and nail to make sure our nation’s heroes get the care they need and deserve today so they do not become tragic statistics tomorrow.”
When Chiano returned home to Valley Stream from Vietnam, he married his wife, Edie, and together they raised two daughters, Jennifer and Genine. He then took a job working as a mechanic for the New York City Fire Department, where he worked until recently when he became too ill.
“Jerry Chiano was a true Valley Stream hero,” said Mayor Ed Fare.
For those who knew him, Chiano was more than just an advocate; he was part of the family. “Everybody called him Poppy,” said his friend, Karen Garofalo. “That’s how he was known.”
Garofalo danced with Chiano’s wife, Edie, and now she sends her three daughters to Edie’s dance studio, Ms. Edie’s Dancin’ Feet in Franklin Square. Garofalo said that Chiano built the props for the dance recitals and traveled with the company for any competitions. “No matter where we went, Poppy was with us,” she said.
She also said that he cared for everybody at the dance studio. In fact, when Garofalo was going through hard times recently, she said Chiano texted her every day to see how she was doing. “He was always there for everybody, all the time,” Garofalo said.
His daughter, Jennifer Paglino, described Chiano as a family-oriented jokester. “He was a very funny person,” she said. “Always positive, always family oriented.” She said that one of her favorite memories is of a time when her father got out of a rowboat and was chased back into the water by a cow. “Really he was just your typical, funny dad.”
A memorial service for Chiano was held on Nov. 22 at the Edward Lieber Funeral Homes in Valley Stream. In lieu of flowers, the family requested a donation be made to The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation, a nonprofit that provides support and education for bile duct cancer. As of press time, Paglino’s Facebook fundraiser for the nonprofit had raised $3,990, more than doubling her Paglino’s goal of $1,500.
“I want to continue as his advocate to share and make sure everyone is aware of this horrible disease and all vets have the information they need to go and get tested immediately,” Paglino said in a text message to the Herald.
Chiano is survived by his wife, Edie, and his daughters, Jennifer Paglino, and Genine Chiano.