Sapienza was recalled again in May 2012, but his return lasted only a few days as his wife’s cancer progressed. After running through his vacation, sick and leave time, he asked to be granted unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The request was denied because Sapienza gave up the job tenure required to get a leave under the act when he cashed in his retirement account while he was laid off.
Instead, the city granted him the string of unpaid leaves, which ran out Nov. 26.
Sapienza was at home in the small row house on Young Avenue he shares with his wife, Heather, on a recent morning, helping her spread cream cheese on a bagel. The task has become too intricate for her to do alone because of the damage the cancer has done to a frontal lobe of her brain, a center for cognitive abilities.
The two met in an Internet chat room in 2004. They married June 22, 2005, a date both of them have tattooed on their arms, inside a heart.
Tom Sapienza, 41, is long, lean and strapping. Wedding pictures on the walls of the couple’s tiny living room show Heather leaning on the chest of her much taller husband with bright eyes and a glowing smile, but on this morning she appeared pale and frail.
A seaman’s cap covered up the hair she lost during months of radiation and chemotherapy, which was stopped recently after her terminal diagnosis. Most of her speech also has been lost, along with her strength. She tried twice to lift herself from her chair at the kitchen table, stumbling both times. She said nothing as her husband spoke with a reporter, but wept quietly for a few moments when he talked about what’s ahead for them and described the betrayal he said he feels.