Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Nick Ameen.
Fireman Christopher Demaree embarked on his journey to become a Coast Guardsman when he arrived at boot camp in January 2011. Eight weeks later, he reported for duty at his first unit, Coast Guard Station Manasquan Inlet in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.
When a Coast Guardsman reports to his first unit, he is introduced to the unknown, to uncertainties and to a new way of life. Disciplined initiative becomes a necessity as you navigate your career. For Demaree, a positive attitude is the foundation on which he honed his proficiency in craft.
According to his shipmates, that positive attitude remains his defining characteristic despite having been diagnosed with leukemia in May 2013.
“I was shocked to find out,” said Chris. “I had been trying to pass my PT test, but it wasn’t going well. I went to medical, and when my labs came back it was critical.”
Chris has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., for the past few months; remission has yet to come.
His high spirits and optimistic outlook are what his fellow crewmembers are gaining inspiration from these days.
Chris is a member of Station Manasquan Inlet’s engineering department, headed up by Chief Petty Officer Rick Baynor, the station’s engineering petty officer. Baynor speaks highly of Chris’s outlook and abilities.
“Within the department he has an infectious attitude,” said Baynor. “Chris can always put a smile on your face even when things get busy. He just has that demeanor about him.
“He’s a great worker,” Baynor continued. “He didn’t have much experience when he arrived, but we’ve watched him grow and ultimately he became a certified engineer on the motor lifeboat. His knowledge on the motor lifeboat is exceptional.”
Baynor said on more than one occasion Chris demonstrated his exceptional knowledge on the motor lifeboat by addressing underway causalities and quickly effecting repairs, mitigating further damage and keeping the crew safe.
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Mahoney, Station Manasquan Inlet’s commanding officer, speaks very highly of Chris’ character.
“He’s like a family member,” said Mahoney. “He visited the station the other day with his parents. There was so much optimism from the crew.
“He’s just such a nice person,” Mahoney continued. “He’s approaching this situation with great courage and maturity. He really is a role model.”
Aside from a couple of breaks from the hospital, crewmembers from the station make frequent visits to the hospital to spend time with Chris. Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Priest, a machinery technician within the station’s engineering department, has made countless visits to spend time with his friend watching movies and playing video games.
“The support from my command has been great,” said Chris. “Petty Officer Priest has been great. He helped out my parents and he’s a great to talk to; he really listens.”
“His strength blows me away,” said Priest. “Chris is a high-spirited person who always keeps his shipmates in mind.”
After a pediatric trial it was determined Chris is in need of a bone marrow transplant. Chris explained the importance of being a bone marrow donor.
“I always knew about being a blood donor, and even being a registered organ donor, but I never thought about bone marrow,” he said. “It’s fairly easy to go and get your mouth swabbed. You never know when you could be called on to help save someone’s life.”
As a member of the 5th Coast Guard District, Chris is not the only person living with leukemia. Rear Adm. Steven Ratti, commander of the 5th Coast Guard District, endured a battle with leukemia. He underwent 17 blood transfusions as well as chemotherapy treatments, and his leukemia is in remission.
Ratti speaks of two statements he never thought he would make: “I was selected from a highly talented pool of top officers and was promoted to be a rear admiral in the United States Coast Guard. I have leukemia.”
Ratti said the first statement is one you never really think about, and the other is one you try not to hope for.
“I don’t really recall everything that happened during my treatment—some patches of foggy memory while I was being treated—but I do remember my shipmates and good friends who continually wished me well,” said Ratti. “I’m not sure I had as good of an attitude as Fireman Demaree has, but I wish him the same outcome that I’ve had. We all want to see him get better and be able to pursue all of his dreams. No one knows whom this will happen to, but each of us can hope that if it does, we can respond as well as Fireman Demaree has. We wish him the best. He’s a good shipmate.”
Despite Chris’ brother and sister not being matches for a bone marrow transplant, as of Aug. 19 an anonymous donor—a perfect match—is verified.
“We hope to be able to report in a few months that Chris is making progress towards recovery,” said Mahoney. The transplant date is pending.