VISTA, Calif. – One year after a 33-year-old Vista firefighter lost a sudden battle with melanoma, his loved ones are launching a foundation in his name to help prevent other firefighters from suffering a similar fate.
“We didn’t know until it was too late and there were no warning signs,” said Caylie Valenta, wife of Andy Valenta.
By the time Andy was diagnosed with melanoma, it was already stage 4. He died three and a half months later. Now Caylie is turning her family’s tragedy into a foundation for the future health and safety of first responders.
“Melanoma is one of the many cancers that firefighters are at increased risk for versus the average population because of everything they’re exposed to on the job with carcinogens and flame retardants,” she said.
With the help of the Vista Fire Department and the community, Belching Beaver Brewery launched a special beer in Andy’s honor: the “True Grit IPA.” All sales from the beer and T-shirts sold Monday evening went to the Andy Valenta Melanoma Foundation.
“Probably not a day goes by where I don’t think about Andy and the impact that he’s had on all of us. We want to ensure we’re doing what we can to spread awareness and carry on his memory,” fellow Vista firefighter Mark Gaffney said.
The foundation’s focus is on education, awareness and skin checks for firefighters. Officials also are partnering with DermTech, a La Jolla-based company that uses sticker technology to screen for skin cancer.
“It’s a noninvasive, pain-free way to get this sample from a patient. It’s giving doctors another option now,” said Jason Alongi, senior director of consumer marketing with DermTech.
Alongi says the technology has been around for about a decade and is being used nationwide.
As the work of the foundation gets started, the goal is to first target departments in North County, but eventually expand all over the county and beyond.
“A 5- to 10-minute check once a year could save anyone’s life if we catch it early enough,” Caylie said. “The main goal is to help prevent other families from experiencing the nightmare that me and my girls have had to endure because of melanoma.”
The “True Grit IPA” sold out Monday evening, but the Vista Fire Department will be selling remaining t-shirts to continue fundraising for the foundation.