BY MARK BOYLE — Sgt. Tony Knox was on a midnight tour when his left eye started bugging him, he said. Each passing car seemed to have its bright lights on.
The 41-year-old City of Hyattsville Police Department sergeant used eye drops everyday, but this wasn’t a standard case of dry eyes. Five years ago, Knox had a tumor removed from behind his left eye. His eye was acting up again.
In 2011, Knox was having trouble seeing. Doctors confirmed a growth coming through his eye socket below his left eyeball was a benign mixed tumor. It would need to be removed. The Johns Hopkins Hospital doctors performed the procedure, removing Knox’s tear duct, which was connected to the tumor.
After follow-up scans showed everything was clear, Knox was free from follow-ups. That is, until this past summer, when car headlights were agitating his eye again in an all-too-familiar way.
“I knew something was wrong,” Knox said.
The tumor had returned, this time cancerous. A specialist found the cancer had spread to the bone around Knox’s left eye. The eye and the bone will have to be removed.
To help with medical costs and support for the Knox family, visit their GoFundMe page.
“Think of a baseball,” Knox said. “If you cut that out of something, you don’t want to cut exactly around the baseball. You have to go further.”
The cancer had entered the bone in front of Knox’s brain, thinning the wall. To get away from the aggressive cancer completely, everything in the eye socket would have to be removed, Knox said.
The news was a blow. But the anger and depression lasted only a day or two, Knox said.
“There’s no sense in doing the ‘woe is me’ and sulking over it,” Knox said. “Either I’ll have two eyes and die, or have one eye and continue to live.”
Knox’s team at the police department united around him.
As a small agency, the Hyattsville squad and investigators spend more time with coworkers than with family, said Lt. Zachary Nemser. Knox, one of the patrol supervisors, carries a lot of respect around the department.
“Everybody loves working with him and for him,” Nemser said. “He is one of those guys that everybody gets along with.”
It’s hard to deny that Knox, who has been with Hyattsville for 10 years, has a presence in the department.
“You always feel comfortable around him,” Nemser said.
With a military background in addition to police experience, Knox knows what to do and has a handle in every situation, Nemser said. Knox is a great role model and has helped produce a lot of “good officers,” Nemser adds. Nemser is one of them, having trained with Knox nearly nine years ago.
Knox will have to be out of work for some time after the surgery. It’s too early to tell how the surgery will affect his job when he returns. He says his goal is to be back at work in February. As of right now, Knox is on light duty, doing things like administrative duties.
Knox’s absence will surely be felt by the department, Nemser said. In addition to duties like lead firearms instructor and taser instructor, Knox oversees the K-9 Unit and is a member of the emergency response team.
“A bunch of people will have to step up to take on his responsibilities,” Nemser said. “He wears a lot of hats.”
But it wasn’t difficult to get the Hyattsville team to rally around Knox, Nemser said.
“I’d like to say it’s very indicative of Hyattsville,” Nemser said. “We saw the need and jumped into action. That’s what we do on the street.”
The team will be supporting Knox and his family, Nemser said. With Knox’s wife Meredith at home watching their two-year-old triplets, the team will be creating a schedule to drive Knox to radiation and doctor’s appointments.
The team is extraordinary, Knox said.
“The way people have come together to help my family and I out,” Knox said. “I can’t express it. It’s unbelievable.”
The surgery is scheduled for mid-November. This is a heavy date in the Knox household. It’s the date Knox almost lost both his wife and triplets.
Two years ago, Meredith was pregnant with the triplets and developed preeclampsia. Her body was rejecting the pregnancy, trying to terminate it, Knox said. Meredith had to be medevaced from Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she delivered.
“I almost lost all three of my kids plus my wife in the same night,” Knox said.
Born at 29 weeks, the heaviest newborn was 3 pounds, 4 ounces, Knox said. The smallest was 2 pounds,13 ounces. Small enough to be held in the palm of your hand, Knox said.
Now two years later, Knox’s surgery falls on his triplet’s birthday. This time, doctors will be trying to save Knox’s life. “They have been phenomenal,” Knox said.
As a nod to his character, officers are using the hashtag #FortKnox to spread the word. Knox said providing for his wife, his triplets, and his 21-year-old son is the most important thing he can do.
“I’ll continue to fight for this.”
The City of Hyattsville Police Department has created a GoFundMe page to help with medical costs and support for the Knox family. In just eight days, 370 donors have given $33,253. Those interested in donating Size 5 diapers for the triplets can drop off donations at the Hyattsville Police Department at 4310 Gallatin St.