Coral Springs Firefighter Paul “Pauly” Pietrafesa
By: Sharon Aron Baron
Your courageous battle came to an end today. Rest In Peace brother Paul. We’ll take it from here!” – Coral Springs Fire Department November 23, 2016 via Twitter.
A Coral Springs husband, father and firefighter lost his battle with pancreatic cancer – but not without a fight. Paul “Pauly” Pietrafesa, 48, had lived with the disease for almost two years, well beyond the survival rate for 70 percent of those who are diagnosed.
Paul was born in Oceanside, NY to Paul and Joan Pietrafesa and moved to Florida as an infant and lived in Deerfield Beach where he went to high school. He was an auto mechanic before firefighting became his passion and owned an auto repair shop for over 20 years before he began his career with the Coral Springs Fire Department. Paul was a volunteer firefighter before he was hired full time on November 23, 2005. He spent several years working between the engine and rescue as a firefighter/paramedic. In early 2016, he completed the training and passed the tests to become a driver engineer.
It was in early 2015, when the married father of four began having abdominal pain and was mistakenly diagnosed with gallstones. It was soon discovered that he had actually developed pancreatic cancer. That spring, he saw several specialists and began aggressive treatment which included multiple surgeries, chemo treatments, immunotherapy and drug trials.
This past July, Paul, his wife Karen, along with his doctors decided that there were no further treatments that would improve his cancer and August 3, Paul officially retired from the Coral Springs Fire Department.
“It was emotionally brutal,” said Karen. “They did an amazing tribute at the Performing Arts Center, but it was very hard emotionally for him to give up the job he lived for and wasn’t ready to give up.”
A graduate of Deerfield High School, Paul wanted to work for the Coral Springs Fire Department because he wanted something different and wanted to feel like he was making a difference with his life said Karen. “It was the happiest I have seen him.”
The two met at the dental office that Karen was working for, when initially she had tried to set him up with one of her friends. They were married 15 years ago with Paul bringing his two children: Samantha and Jacob into their lives before they eventually having two children of their own.
Life wasn’t without challenges before Paul became ill. Their youngest daughter Emma, 10, was born with a rare genetic disorder called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. CdLS children are typically characterized by slow growth before and after birth leading to short stature and an intellectual disability. Emma was born deaf, missing part of her right arm and left hand. She cannot walk or talk and is the size of a two year-old.
“We just found a school that can accommodate and help her so she can get some social interaction because she’s an adorable child – the innocence and beauty of her is amazing because she is so stinking cute. Her smile can just just light up a room,” said Karen.
Children born with CdLS have shortened lifespans and typically don’t live a long life because of their weakened immune and respiratory systems. She also has the mental capability of a two year-old.
The Pietrafesa’s live in Wellington, but were trying to move to Coral Springs before Paul became ill.
“We spend all of our time in Coral Springs. Our kids actually go to school at the Atlantis Academy because they are able to accommodate Emma and Anthony, who has autism.”
After Paul’s diagnosis, they both tried to accomplish as many things as they could on their bucket list together. They’ve been to Disney World twice, Las Vegas, New York City and even went zip-lining in Ocala.
As a firefighter, New York City was a very special trip for Paul said Karen. The World Center hotel they stayed at, is across the street from the World Trade Center, in full view of the September 11 Memorial and its reflecting pools.
On September 8, Karen said that Paul began receiving hospice home care and is was on pain-management.
She said that he loved working with the Coral Springs Fire Department and missed it, because it was who he was.
“Being part of that family was the definition of his life. I can’t even put it into words what it meant to him to work with that group of people. They’re amazing. They’re an amazing group. They’re family, they’re supportive, they’re brothers and sisters – the support system is like none other that I’ve seen anywhere.”
Coral Springs, FL 33071
Would you like to help the Pietrafesa family? Please help them here: GoFundMe