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John E. Sullivan Retired Lowell Police Captain, 56 LOWELL John E. Sullivan, a retired Lowell Police Captain, died on September 15, 2008 after a courageous 20 year battle with Huntington's Disease. He was 56 years old. Born in Lowell, MA on April 20, 1952, John was the son of the late Lowell Police Sergeant John F. Sullivan and Eileen (Fagan) Sullivan. John graduated from Lowell High School in 1970, where he was a Boy Officer. John earned both a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Criminal Justice, graduating from Westfield State College in 1974 and Northeastern University in 1980. While serving as a member of the Hampton, New Hampshire Police Department, John became a Correctional Officer at MCI Concord, where he worked until 1978. In April of 1978, he was appointed to the Lowell Fire Department where he served until October of that year. John was then appointed to the Lowell Police Department, and became a Patrolman in September of 1978. John was proud of the fact that he was a third generation Lowell Police Officer. He was promoted three times: in March of 1984 to Sergeant, in October of 1986 to Lieutenant, and in October of 1992 to Captain. Due to his battle with Huntington's Disease, he retired in February of 2000. John was an avid runner, having belonged to the Greater Lowell Road Runner's Club. Since 1982 he ran in many of the area's local road races. The Boston Marathon was his passion and he ran and completed 12 of them from 1987 through 1998. Always celebrating his Irish heritage, to the fullest, John belonged to the Ancient Order of Hibernians. John's favorite activity was spending time with his daughters Kaitlin and Meghan. He loved taking them camping, fishing, canoeing, to Hampton Beach and to the White Mountains. He was their most ardent fan, cheering for them at their dance and baton recitals, or at gymnastics and swimming/diving meets. He was very proud of all of their academic and personal accomplishments. John was diagnosed with Huntington's Disease in 1989. In the early 1990's, he participated in many clinical and research studies to advance the knowledge of HD. In 1996, he became only the second person to undergo a fetal pig tissue transplant, to determine if that could improve or cure HD. John was the former husband of Cheryl A. (Colbert) Sullivan of Chelmsford. He was the devoted father of Kaitlin E. Sullivan-Freimuth and her husband John Freimuth of Plainville, CT, and Meghan E. Sullivan of Chelmsford. He was the brother of David J. Sullivan and his life partner, Faith Travis and uncle to Shawn and Amanda Sullivan, all of Tyngsboro. John was also the God Father to Walter J. Poirier, the missing Lowell Peace Corps Volunteer. John is also survived by his former in-laws, William and Claire Colbert of Chelmsford, and his brothers and sisters-in-law, William C. Colbert, Michelle C. Desrosiers, Jeanne P. Carter, and James E. Colbert and their families. He is also survived by his loyal friends, Lowell Police Captain Kevin E. Staveley and Lowell Deputy Fire Chief Patrick R. McCabe, Jr. SULLIVAN In Tewksbury, September 15, 2008. John E. Sullivan, 56, Retired Lowell Police Captain. Friends may call at the FAY McCABE FUNERAL HOME, 105 MOORE STREET, LOWELL, on THURSDAY from 2 until 4 and from 7 until 9 P.M. John's Funeral will take place FRIDAY MORNING at 9:30 A.M. from the Funeral Home, followed by his Funeral Mass at 11 A. M. at ST. MARY'S CHURCH, 25 NORTH ROAD, CHELMSFORD. Burial will follow in Pine Ridge Cemetery. As an expression of sympathy, in lieu of flowers, please send donations in John's memory to THE HUNTINGTON'S DISEASE SOCIETY OF AMERICA/NEW ENGLAND REGIONAL OFFICE (HDSA), 6 COURTHOUSE LANE, UNIT 12, CHELMSFORD, MA 01824 OR www.hdsa-ne.org or www.hdsa.org. ARRANGEMENTS BY FAY McCABE FUNERAL DIRECTORS, 978-459-9222.
 

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Courageous father, police officer

By Robert Mills, [email protected]
Article Last Updated: 09/18/2008 06:37:00 AM EDT

LOWELL -- His skull would be screwed to a metal frame. That frame screwed to an operating table. And as doctors performed an eight-hour surgery, inserting fetal-pig tissue into his brain, John E. Sullivan would have to remain awake.
His regular doctor said it was "crazy."
It was 1996, and Sullivan volunteered. He was the first person in the world to do so.
Why?
Huntington's disease, the degenerative brain disorder the experimental procedure would potentially cure, is hereditary. Sullivan had two young daughters.
"If they had said to him, 'Cut your head off, and your daughters will be fine,' he would have done that," his ex-wife Cheryl Sullivan said. "Come hell or high water, he wanted to find either a treatment or a cure."
It was a kind of courage that Sullivan, a third-generation Lowell police officer who retired in 2000, will be remembered for tomorrow as he is laid to rest. He died Monday at 56.
He was the second person to have the brain procedure. It was not a cure but it never caused Sullivan any harm. He was glad to know he helped to rule it out.
He also tried experimental drugs and other less-frightening research treatments.
The family ties that drove Sullivan to bravery in the face of disease had also led him to police work. His father and grandfather were Lowell officers.
His father told him to find other work. But Sullivan caught the bug.
Deputy Lowell Fire Chief Patrick McCabe met Sullivan at Lowell High School. From there, the two went to Mount Wachusett Community College. After school, Sullivan worked as a prison guard at MCI-Concord. They also worked as summer police officers at Hampton Beach, NH. In 1978, he also joined the Lowell Fire Department for a year, working with McCabe on Engine 2 for a time.
McCabe caught the fire bug, remaining with the department.
"He wanted nothing but police," McCabe said of Sullivan.
For six weeks in 1978, when he was finally hired by police, Sullivan worked at all three positions -- prison guard, firefighter and police-academy cadet.
He wasn't double-dipping, McCabe said. He just worked that hard.
"He was doing everything he possibly could to make life better for his family," said Police Capt. Kevin Staveley, a friend for three decades.
Fitchburg Police Chief Robert DeMoura met Sullivan when both worked at the prison. Later, when both were with the Lowell police, Sullivan would give DeMoura's mother a ride home from work each night.
"John worked 16-hour days for years," DeMoura said.
As a cop, Sullivan could be tough. But he could also handle children whose cat was run over.
"He had his standards that people in the area had to live up to, and you didn't want to get on his wrong side or you'd end up in jail," Staveley said.
Huntington's disease came in 1989. For years, it did nothing to slow Sullivan down, said his daughter, Kaitlin Sullivan-Freimuth.
He ran the Boston Marathon 13 times, nine times after his diagnosis.
He was promoted to captain in 1992.
His daughter, Meghan Sullivan, said there were still trips to Disney World and the White Mountains.
During one trip to the beach, Sullivan sat in his chair and studied for a police exam. He had to study, but he also had his daughters to think about.
"You really couldn't ask for a better dad," Sullivan-Freimuth said.
Cheryl and John would eventually divorce, but they never had a falling-out. Cheryl stayed by John's side until the day he died.
In 2000, after his disability retirement, Sullivan was preparing to enter a special unit at Tewksbury State Hospital for Huntington's disease. A nurse came to evaluate Sullivan and asked if he wanted to go to the unit.
"John said, 'No, I don't really want to go. But I will because Cheryl can't keep doing this 24/7,'" Cheryl said. "He was never thinking of himself."
That was a central theme of his life.
It was in Tewksbury that he spent his final years.
The family never gave him the news they feared would kill him, Cheryl said.
In March, Meghan Sullivan was diagnosed with a rare juvenile form of Huntington's.
Then a sophomore at Rivier College in Nashua, Meghan came home from school. She was quitting. Why bother?
A week later, she changed her mind.
Cheryl Sullivan recalls: "She said, 'If dad could do all this, I'm going to go back.'"
In May of this year, she got her associate's degree.
"You can see the strength she got from John," Cheryl said.
"He's my hero," Meghan said.
Sullivan will be laid to rest tomorrow, following services tonight.
Meghan Sullivan, 21, now advocates for and speaks about Huntington's disease. There is no cure or treatment.
Instead of flowers, the family asks that expressions of sympathy go to the Huntington's Disease Society of America/New England Regional Office, 6 Courthouse Lane, Unit 12, Chelmsford, MA 01824.
LOWELL SUN
 
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