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Holiday Gift and Event Guide — The Altamont Enterprise, November 20, 2008

A boy’s cancer diagnosis just before Christmas leads Quaglieri to play 4-wheelling Santa

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The summer months were sluggish for Dan Quaglieri, whose glands were swollen from mononucleosis.

By Thanksgiving of that year, the lump on his neck remained, said his father, Thomas Quaglieri, and he was diagnosed with cancer before Christmas.

In January, Dan turned 15 and spent most of the year in treatment for lymphoma.

“I referred to it as a year of hell,” said his father.  “We didn’t do anything normal.”

His only son, the younger of his two children, was part of a study group that underwent chemotherapy for the disease, Mr. Quaglieri said.

“It’s poisoning your body just shy of killing you,” he said of the treatment.  “It’s controlled poisoning… You could see different parts of his body shutting down.”

Once a typical football-playing teenager, Dan was stuck in bed for weeks at a time, his father said.  “He was just a shell of himself.”

Between treatments sometimes, his doctor would give him permission to ride his ATV.  “You do this, and I’ll let you go riding for the weekend,” was how the deals usually worked, Mr. Quaglieri said.

“It was a great release of all that pent-up boredom,” he said. 

When his son was 6 or 8, Mr. Quaglieri had given him a go-cart and, at age 10, an ATV.  “From there, it snowballed,” he said of his son’s interest in motor sports.

“Those were all the things he loved and wanted,” Mr. Quaglieri said, and the buildup of adrenalin and endorphins was good for his son.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation, though, doesn’t deal in those things.  So, instead, the foundation sent the Quaglieri family to Hawaii for 12 days, where “he picked out the most adrenaline-pumping things you could do,” Mr. Quaglieri said, “but his real wish was to have a dirt bike.”

Throughout the illness, the Quaglieris had trouble finding a place where Dan could ride and release his tension — the family also wanted to help kids who were going through the same ordeal.

So, just about two years ago, they started 4 Wheeling for Healing.  “We’re motorized Make-A-Wish,” Mr. Quaglieri said. 

He found a property owner in Nassau, with 2,000 acres, who was willing to lend his land, and he put together a humble fleet of ATVs and side-by-sides, which are similar to a go-cart.  The younger kids, or the ones who aren’t able to go alone, ride with an adult in a side-by-side, and older kids use the ATVs, after they’ve gotten training.

Two of the Quaglieris’ three side-by-sides will soon need to be retired, though.  “The problem is, the machines we’re using are the hottest thing going,” Mr. Quaglieri said of trying to get a deal from the manufacturer of the $15,000 machines.

Right now, he is focusing on building the network of trails available to 4 Wheeling for Healing across the state — eventually, he’d like to have chapters, similar to Make-A-Wish.  “I need the locations to ride and the machines to do it,” he said.

Seeing what it did for his own son during chemotherapy is proof enough for Mr. Quaglieri that making the experience available to any kid who wants to ride is important.  Watching the joy in the faces of the kids who finish a ride with him only reinforces it.

“It definitely gives them a rush of positive endorphins,” he said.

Of his own son, he said, “He went through cancer treatment and he came out fine on the other side.”

This January, when Dan turns 18, his father will turn 4 Wheeling for Healing over to him.

“He just loves to do it,” Mr. Quaglieri said.

4 Wheeling for healing accepts donations on its website, www.4wheelingforhealing.com, or sent to 104 Pheasant Walk, Schenectady, NY  12303.

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