The Winter Springs Police Department – and the entire community – rallies around an officer in distress.
The whole thing is shocking,” says Winter Springs Police Captain Matt Tracht about the recent colon-cancer diagnosis of Officer Tommy Ballew.
The somber news recently made its way around the department. Friends and colleagues worked to process it. But the shock quickly turned into determined planning as Tommy’s work family jumped into action. They mowed his lawn, delivered meals for his family, and raised funds for his treatment and care.
Thousands of dollars have been, and continue to be, collected.
It was never a question if his colleagues would help and support Tommy in this way. It was more a matter of getting the logistics in place, meeting the right needs, and showing support in any way possible.
“He’s a guy who always has a smile on his face,” Matt says of Tommy. “I’ve never seen him upset, never seen him have a down moment. He’s going to fight it, and we’re going to fight it with him.”
Officer Tommy Ballew, 31, lives in Longwood with his wife Hannah and one-year-old daughter Ruby. His dad Tom Ballew says that, as a kid, Tommy loved comedy movies and had a laid-back personality. He loved his drum set and got excellent grades. When he announced he was going into law enforcement, Tom said it was surprising, as young Tommy had such a mild disposition.
But the career seems to be where Tommy has found his voice, “growing into the role,” according to his father. Tommy loves working on the force, especially his time spent as a resource officer at Winter Springs High School.
“He really built connections with the kids,” says Matt.
At the beginning of this year, Tommy started losing weight unexpectedly. In June, an external tumor was found on his colon, lodged against his spleen. As of early August, Tommy was undergoing chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. His mother, Gail, babysits so he and Hannah can be at the hospital together, when necessary.
The Winter Springs Police Department is raising money for Tommy and his family in creative, diverse ways. Right after the department learned of Tommy’s diagnosis, male officers were allowed to grow goatees for a month, and female non-uniform employees were allowed to wear jeans to work for a month, all in return for a donation that went directly toward Tommy’s expenses.
Stickers with a blue ribbon for colon cancer awareness and Tommy’s badge number were created and sold. Visible on cruisers all over town, the stickers are five dollars each, which goes to help the family.
The city’s SWAT team held a raffle to raise money, as well, with police departments inside and outside of Seminole County contributing prizes.
The local business community has also pitched in to sell the stickers locally: Stefano’s Trattoria, Richie’s Barbershop, Marco’s Pizza, Thirst Teas, Dominick’s Restaurant, Destiny’s Big City Pizza, and Huey Magoo’s Chicken Tenders, to name a few.
Tommy’s sister Layla Scheiber, an employee of Highlands Elementary School in Winter Springs, keeps the lines of communication open – posting health updates on Tommy at the I Love Winter Springs Facebook page. She’s set up an online care calendar where folks can sign up to help out Tommy and his family in various ways.
“That allows for many people to help over time as opposed to everyone rushing in to help at once,” says Layla. “It’s been a wonderful way to organize the chaos that comes with an illness like cancer.”
Tommy’s attitude during treatment remains upbeat.
A definite bright spot came when he purchased a Nintendo Switch portable gaming console to pass the time during long infusion sessions at the hospital, says Matt, laughing at his fellow officer’s enthusiasm for the new device.
“He was smiling ear to ear,” Tommy’s dad agreed.
Support efforts for Officer Ballew show no sign of stopping at the Winter Springs police department and throughout the community.
“In the brotherhood, we take care of our own as much as we can,” says Matt.
To learn more and find out how you can help, connect with I Love Winter Springs on Facebook and look for updates from Tommy’s family. Or, call the Winter Springs Police Department at 407-327-1000.
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