by Hardy W. Bryan
This is a true story about a teenage girl and her sixteenth birthday bash. It demonstrates that the young people can and do care for those less fortunate than themselves. She chose a most unique way to make a difference.
The American College for Advanced Medicine held its semiannual conference the first week of June 2011 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The gathering highlighted many new and under-utilized medical procedures and provided seminars and displays for each. Mark Fowler and I represented the St. Petersburg-based Chamber of Hope, a non-profit that provides mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy to children afflicted with autism, cerebral palsy, shaken baby syndrome, near drowning, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, and a host of other physical and neurological insults. It is the only facility known to provide free treatments to such youngsters and it operates with five hyperbaric chambers.
We attended a poolside cocktail party, during which we met attendees, told about our program and provided literature and business cards, promising to provide our therapy to any child who has chronic medical issues.
I spoke with Wendy Law from Ft. Myers, Florida, who was very interested in what we do, how we are organized, how we finance our program, and the success stories.
Several weeks passed. I returned from a short trip to Savannah to see that I received two messages on my recorder from Wendy. She said that her daughter had an idea for a fund raiser for the Chamber of Hope. Since I am the Treasurer, I am acutely aware of our great need for funds! So, any help we receive is always most welcome. Interested to know what idea her daughter was suggesting, I called Wendy.
Wendy said that he fifteen year-old daughter, Paige, was planning her sixteenth birthday bash, and that it would be a Glow Party and a fund raising event for the Chamber of Hope. Wow! Although I had no idea what a glow party was, I was thrilled that someone who had never visited us thought so highly of our program that she invited 140 teens to her party, allowing each invitee to bring another teen. The wonderful idea was that Paige wanted no birthday gifts for herself, asking instead that a cash or check donation be made to the Chamber of Hope! What a fantastic girl she is. One cannot fault a teen reaching her Sweet Sixteen birthday for asking for a car, computer, iPod, clothes, gift cards….pretty standard fare for a teenager. But here is one who is forgoing all that so that her special occasion can benefit children of special needs.
We were asked to come to the party and bring promotional material for the party attendees. Mark Fowler and I accepted the invitation and I asked if we could bring two sixteen year old girls who volunteer two or three times a week at the Center, Sara Horning and Grace Witten. These two teens worked at the center all summer and have become ambassadors for the Chamber of Hope. Wendy said, by all means, yes.
Curious as to how all this evolved with Paige, I asked Wendy how this happened. Wendy reminded me of our conversation at the poolside party and that I had given her my business card. Upon her return to Ft, Myers, she told Paige about the Chamber of Hope. There is a story within a story here. Paige is a nationally-known and ranked soccer player. She suffered a severe injury to her leg while playing, an injury that would have taken months to heal and even more precious time before she could resume playing the sport she dearly loved. Fortunately, she learned about mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy and was able to obtain treatment in Ft. Myers, using a chamber identical to those used by the Chamber of Hope. She fully recovered and resume play within two weeks. She knew firsthand that this procedure worked, and was elated to learn that we operated chambers and provided free treatments for children.
After her party plans were finalized, Paige and family paid a visit to the Chamber of Hope, met the staff, volunteers, including Sara and Grace, and talked with the patients and families receiving treatments. Paige left very confident in her decision to dedicate her birthday party to the Chamber of Hope.
At my suggestion, an invitation was also extended to Manny Galan, his Mom, Millie, and his Dad. Manny, also a soccer star, master of seven musical instruments and a highly intelligent math student, had gone skiing during the Christmas holidays in December 2010. He was talking to others when he suddenly dropped to the ground. When those present realized he was not pulling a prank, he was rushed to the hospital with a massive heart attack. The doctors saved his life, but he was comatose and unable to perform any physical task. Wheelchair bound. He came to us for treatments from North Port, Florida, every day for months. His Dad constructed a removable ramp and mounted an electric winch that allowed him to enter and exit the van with only his Mom present. Paige met him at the Center. His mental condition is improving and with assistance, he can now walk eight steps and can stand alone for a brief period. And we ain’t done with him yet!
Sara’s mother, Maureen, volunteered to bring Sara and Grace to the party. Mark and I loaded my car with easels, posters and brochures and drove to Ft. Myers that Friday afternoon, July 29th, 2011. The event was held in a huge indoor play arena for children of all ages. The private party started at ten and lasted three hours. As the guests arrived, they placed cash or envelopes in a large jar, viewed our display, which included the chamber Paige used for her recovery, painted their white clothes with glow paint, and spent the next three hours dancing and conversing under black lights. Now I know what a glow party is!
The next day, while Mark and I were heading for a fund raiser to benefit the Bloomingdale Library Attack Victim, (a teen who had been brutally beaten, raped and left for dead one fateful night three years earlier), I asked Mark if he had ever attended a birthday party that had no cake and at which “Happy Birthday” was not sung. Neither of us had.
Paige, Wendy, her Dad, Rodney, and her sister, Amber, and friends revisited the Center of Hope one week after the party, bringing the proceeds. I think they received a bigger reception that they expected.
They were greeted by St. Petersburg’s Mayor Bill Foster, Fox News Tampa Bay, CBS Radio, the Managing Editor of the Old Northeast Journal, an AOL reporter, and many others. Also there were Marcello Nunez, and his Mom Paola. Marcello is a youngster who had been hit by a car on Labor Day, 2010. Doctors saved his life, but he was left in a brain fog and wheelchair bound. Paola refused to accept her son’s condition as permanent, and she searched for any other possible therapies. Finding our website, www.chamberofhope.org, she brought her son to us months ago. Tears flowed when Marcello walked up to me on his own power and totally aware of all around him. And we ain’t finished with him either!
Manny, the heart attack victim, was then introduced. His smile was ear-to-ear when a covey of teenage girls swirled around him and posed, with him, for pictures!
I then introduced and recognized the many Center volunteers and staff, including Mark and his wife, Betsy, who, prior to our move to our current location, had operated the Center in their home, using four chambers, eight hours each day, for nearly four years.
Finally, it was time for the newly licensed sixteen year old, the beautiful girl, both inside and out, to make her presentation. It is rare to find a teen with little to say! She was so overwhelmed by all the attention, the media, Mayor Foster, the presence of Marcello and Manny and all others present, she was speechless! She presented an oversized check, made payable to the Chamber of Hope and signed by her, in the amount of $1919.19! Wow! It seemed to be an unusual amount, but we were too stunned to ask questions. When the applause died down, Mayor Foster expressed his gratitude for such an outstanding young lady, and included Sara, Grace and Keenan Valentine (while his twin brother was in a chamber, Keenan helped around the Center and now volunteers several times a week), each of whom was sixteen year old, and noted that when a teen makes the news, it is usually for all the wrong reasons. These kids here today were terrific examples for other teens to emulate.
Business of the event was concluded, and a Publix-donated cake, decorated to denote the soccer star she is, was carried into the room by Sara and Grace, candles ablaze. And the song, “Happy Birthday” filled the air. While all this was going on, the mild hyperbaric oxygen therapies, already scheduled, continued unabated in the same room, with families tending to their children.
We knew we had just witnessed a phenomenal event, the kind that restores one’s faith in the good humans can strive for and do achieve. Even sixteen-year old teenagers.
Wendy sent me an email the next day with the following message:
“Paige has finally come down from cloud nine! The press, the cake, the signing, the Mayor, the media and level of recognition was just remarkable. I wish we could have bottled it up for her to keep in her back pocket to remember the feeling she got yesterday morning. She was so excited, overwhelmed in a positive manner and extremely grateful. Thank you ALL for finishing Paige’s journey with such acknowledgment and love. Friends for ever! — Wendy, Rod, Amber & Paige Law”
Why the odd amount of the check? $1919.19–you ask? Paige’s soccer jersey is Number 19!
Hardy W. Bryan is the Treasurer and Chair, Public Relations, for the Chamber of Hope.