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Donors Raise More Than $12,000 to Help Artist Diagnosed with Leukemia

By Carla Zanoni | July 10, 2012 10:28am
Will TeeZ T-shirts and sweatshirts have become a regular wardrobe staple for many in Washington Heights and Inwood.
Will TeeZ T-shirts and sweatshirts have become a regular wardrobe staple for many in Washington Heights and Inwood.
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INWOOD — More than 150 uptown residents have banded together to raise money for an Inwood artist whose work has brightened their wardrobe for years.

Supporters have raised more than $12,000 in just two days to help artist Will Alicea, known as Will TeeZ for his work designing T-shirts, cover his medical expenses for treatment of his acute myeloid leukemia — a bone cancer that does not allow marrow to produce white blood cells properly.

"Without insurance the medical costs for my treatment and stay in the hospital are going to be enormous," Alicea wrote on a fundraising site asking for help over the weekend. "This is where I reach out to you, my friends, my people, my community."

"I try to embody the spirit that if we really are a community then no one should be left alone or allowed to fall," wrote Alicea, who is best known for his line of T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with neighborhood names and the command: "Rep Your Hood."

"I ask you to hold the same spirit in your heart and help in whatever way you can."

For Alicea, a single father who does not have health insurance, seeing a doctor was a difficult decision to make. But after spending several months trying to recuperate from months dealing with a variety of health issues, he visited a doctor to have blood work done.

Within hours he was checked into the emergency room at Mount Sinai Hospital.

"As an independent artist medical insurance is not something I have so going to the hospital wasn't my first choice," he wrote.

"When the doctors gave me the diagnosis I was shocked and freaked out," he wrote. "I'm only thirty nine years old and it just seemed crazy to be to told 'You have cancer.'"

Within hours of posting his request for help, Upper Manhattanites began donating and posting their own calls for help via email, Facebook and Twitter.

Late Monday, the group had helped bring in more than double Alicea's goal and is working on plans to hold several fundraising events.

"Will TeeZ is in a spot and could use everyone's help: artist, all around nice guy and now uninsured cancer patient," wrote one friend on his Facebook page. "Give if you can."

"Crazy ... that we have to raise money this way; I never had health insurance either, as being a self-employed artist didn’t allow it financially," one donor wrote on the fundraising page.

The drive is reminiscent of the push to help shop owners devastated by a fire that destroyed 10 businesses in Inwood early this year.

"What kind of community do you envision? #Inwood = people that helped us after the fire & will help our neighbor @WiLLTeeZ. Love & kindness," tweeted @BreadandYoga, one of the 10 businesses affected. TeeZ had been part of several of the studio’s holiday bazaars since it opened.

Late in the day Monday, Alicea posted a statement on his Facebook page thanking friends and family for their support.

"I can feel all the energy being directed my way & am sucking up every bit, believe me," he wrote.

He began an "aggressive" round of chemotherapy on Monday afternoon and will be under close observation at the hospital for at least 30 days, according to Alicea’s update.

"I'm gonna start chemo in an hour or two and am actually charged to get this going. The sooner I start, the sooner I'm back home with my people!"