Data being analyzed in study of possible cancer cluster among Bayshore High School graduates

Data being analyzed in study of possible cancer cluster among Bayshore High School graduates

SARASOTA (WWSB) - For those wondering about the results of the health survey related to cancer concerns around the old Bayshore High School, you'll need to be patient awhile longer.

Data was collected by the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County and the Manatee County School District between December 1, 2017 and March 31, 2019. In all, 239 responded to the health survey to determine if Bayshore High School is the source of any disease clusters.

The data is now being analyzed by the Florida Cancer Registry and the results are not yet ready for release. The Department of Health says, “It is the goal of the department to conduct as thorough an investigation as possible, and no shortcuts will be taken in the data collection or verification process.”

The Department of Health says once the analysis is complete, results will be shared with the public.

Dozens of people from around the country believe they are affected by what some call a "cancer cluster" at Bayshore High School. They've suffered from things like leukemia, esophageal cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Joshua Strong, a 2011 Bayshore High graduate, is battling a rare form of Hodgkin's lymphoma. Mike Ackerman, class of 1984, was diagnosed with lupus. Sharylin Pimentel, a 2010 graduate, was able to beat uterine cancer.

They're just three stories out of hundreds.

Bayshore High School alumni are battling cancers all across the board. And not only cancer, other rare illnesses like polycystic kidney disease and Sjogren's syndrome.

Kelly Kall has battled two different cancers since graduating from Bayshore in 1994.

"I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January of 2016," she tells us. "I had surgery in January, went through chemo. Then 18 months later, found out I had uterine cancer. I had surgery three weeks ago on that. I have radiation in a couple weeks for that."

As for a cause, Kall believes that all signs point to Bayshore High School.

"Ovarian cancer is hereditary usually. We did the genetic testing and it came back negative. I was tested for 14 different genes and types of cancer. It all came back negative. So with two gynecological cancers with no case of heredity in the family, it's very uncommon. So the doctor said it's either environmental or sporadic which seems weird to get two cancers sporadic," said Kall.

Then there's Curtis Thompson, who is battling his third different type of cancer since he graduated from Bayshore High in 1987.

His father, James, never even considered a possible link to the school back then.

"The first time he came down with cancer, [it] was bladder cancer. That was '04. He was in Orlando at the time, we though it was just random. People get cancer," said the elder Thompson.

Curtis beat the bladder cancer, then a few years later, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Curtis beat that too and was fine, until recently when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Cheryl Josza lost her sister to cancer and strongly believes Bayshore High School is the reason why. Since then, Josza has been tracking the number of illnesses and deaths of Bayshore alumni.

There are 492 known graduates with diseases and illnesses. Of those 180 have cancer, 107 have died from cancer, 118 deal with autoimmune diseases and 87 alumni have children born with birth defects.

After years of asking and fighting, the Florida Department of Health is finally looking into it. Manatee County commissioners and the school board asked the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County to conduct a study.

"We are looking for people to report if they have had any kind of cancer or other disease," said Tom Iovino with the Florida Department of Heath.

Attorney Ron Chapman, who specialized in health care-related cases, said proving that there's a cancer cluster revolving around Bayshore High School isn't easy.

"First you're going to need individuals that have like cancers. Cancers are very individualized," said Chapman.

He says they'd have to prove that the number of individuals with that cancer is higher than what the area typically experiences.

"Then you'd have to isolate those specific cancers to a particular cause. Then trace that cause specifically back to Bayshore. Either something from the building, something from construction material, something that emanating from the ground or water, some kind of contamination. Then argue that contamination caused that cancer. It's very difficult to do. But it has been done," explained Chapman.

The fact that the department of health has a group of cases to look at makes things easier according to Chapman. However, even if the department determines a cancer cluster, it'll still be a hard to prove causation.

For people like James Thompson, it isn't about being compensated for what's happening to his son, it's about preventing the current Bayshore High School students from going through the same thing in years to come. The new high school was built on the same property as the old one.

For people like David Nethery fighting non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and Jennifer lay who fought colon cancer, and loved ones of Terri Jewell who died of leukemia, the fight will go on.

As far as what might be causing this possible cancer cluster, there are a lot of theories.

One is that diesel fuel tanks found buried under the school put contaminates into the ground and drinking water. However, a series of tests showed that there was no contamination in either the soil or ground water before the tanks were removed.

Those who lost loved ones that went to Bayshore claim that round of testing wasn’t done correctly and needs to take a closer look.

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