A Pasco County firefighter battling cancer is struggling to get by without medical benefits.
Captain Maria Silva, who has dedicated 15 years of her life to saving lives, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the beginning of the year. After using up all her paid time off, she has been left with no income and no medical benefits to help her pay for care.
“You put your family and those that you love, you put them second,” said Silva.
Silva was put on inactive status at the beginning of April when her FMLA time ran out, meaning no medical insurance and no pay. The Cancer Presumption Law, enacted in 33 states, presumes that if a firefighter gets cancer, it was likely caused by the job. Florida, however, has not passed it, so Silva is left to fend for herself.
She said she’s given the most to people she doesn’t even know.
“I always did enjoy the calls and the times that we made a difference,” she said.
Now she’s the one in need of saving.
“I don’t even want to get out of bed,” Silva said fighting back tears.
Silva has been in and out of the hospital for the past year and a half.
“It’s caused a huge depression,” she said.
Over the past two years her sister and father were also diagnosed with cancer. So the 43-year-old had to use up all her sick, vacation, and FMLA time.
Pasco Fire Rescue says it offered her to work light duty, but she says it wasn’t an option.
“I couldn’t work light duty and answer phones and be a normal employee when I’m nauseous, vomiting, and crying,” she said.
Evidence from the CDC that says firefighters are diagnosed with cancer at a 9 percent higher rate than the general population and are 14 percent more likely to die from the disease.
“If a firefighter is diagnosed with cancer throughout their career, what are we supposed to do? Continue working?” said Silva. “We can’t, there’s not support for us here in Florida.”
Because of Silva’s inactive status she can come back to work within a year if there is an opening. However, she says the future of her illness is uncertain.
Silva’s sister Diana Luketich has created a fundraiser for her to help with medical bills and visits.