Eyes Wide Open

A Perspective From Within


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Pay(Pal) it forward

It’s been months since I’ve posted anything. Between my mother passing away and trying to deal with everything else in my life, my post would have most definitely been a Debbie downer. I finally have something positive to write about, and it’s really not about me.

My cousin Joani is celebrating a big birthday soon. She’ll be turning 60—so hard to believe. Joani recently phoned me to propose an amazing idea—rather than having a big birthday bash for herself, she’s decided to do a “charity boot camp”. Joani has been known to always be the cousin who “marches to the beat of a different drummer”, so breaking a major sweat and painfully elevating her heart rate far past the “zone” seems like a perfect birthday gift to herself. I still prefer the kind of gifts that you can open, but that’s me. Joani wants to donate the money raised at the bootcamp to a charity or non-profit that helps people with spinal cord injury, and also wants to make the donations in my name. I’m so honored that she would include me in her special and momentous day, and make it about helping others (and also getting into her skinny jeans). Joani expressed to me that she thinks often about what I have to endure on a daily basis just to do the simplest of things, and is thankful that her body is still physically healthy and able. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I wish I could get on a treadmill and run or do a crazy circuit in the gym. Those things that I complained about and dreaded pre-injury are just the things that I wish I could do again today, post-injury.

When Joani told me that she wanted to raise money for SCI, I knew right away where this money should go…to a non-profit called The Woody Foundation. I met the foundation’s namesake, Woody Beckham when I first started outpatient therapy at Miami Physical Therapy. Woody started out being a bit of an enigma to me. I’ll elaborate. When I first started inpatient PT at Jackson, I always wondered why, in the middle of an early 80’s looking physical and occupational therapy clinic, there was a sleek and modern Miele kitchen. It basically can be compared to seeing a Bentley parked under a carport of a double-wide trailer. It was really something that peaked my curiosity. I finally asked one of the therapists about my nagging Miele mystery.

Enter in: The Woody Foundation

She told me that the kitchen was donated by a guy named Woody who had a spinal cord injury in 2011 (about a year prior to my injury) who also attended Jackson inpatient rehab. She went on to say that Woody started a foundation that raises money for the recovery of people with SCI. The foundation also helps to raise awareness and lend financial support to local organizations helping to rehabilitate and cure paralysis. Concentrating on reaching out to the newly injured is a top priority of Woody and his foundation. I can tell you firsthand, Jackson Hospital did a horrible job in preparing me for what I had to deal with in the coming year. The social worker did nothing to help with my transition. I was basically given a Christopher Reeve’s Foundation book, and was told that it had a lot of valuable information in it for me. I wish that I had a foundation like Woody’s to better prepare me, because honestly, it’s pretty fucking scary. The Woody Foundation is the type of organization that makes a direct impact on people’s lives. There’s a lot of charitable organizations out there that seem to have a constant stream of big dollars going in, but you never really see where that money ends up. Woody’s foundation is what I consider “tangible help”. You can actually touch, feel and see the dollars at work. A perfect example of tangible help is “The Woody Pack”. It’s brilliant. He personally curated a collection of assistive devices for people with limited hand function, after dealing with his own personal challenges with adjusting to this new life. Quadriplegics most of the time have very limited or non-existent hand and wrist function, and Woody discovered various devices to help him regain his independence thus eliminating the need for help from others with simple life situations such as eating, drinking, using a cell phone, etc. Trust me, I hate being dependent on people. It makes me feel like a burden, and that’s the last thing that I want. Imagine how many times a day you use your hands to pick-up a phone, cup, pen, fork or ID. Individuals using devices in The Woody Pack can overcome these and other daily obstacles. Believe me…hands and fingers are not overrated (some days, I feel like I have dog paws). Woody’s goal with these packs is to share his experience of regaining independence with others so they too can have the joy of going about their day…on their own. The cost to put together each pack is around $200 (anything for the disabled is expensive) and Woody provides these packs free of charge to people who can benefit from them. You can read all about Woody’s Foundation on his website at http://www.woodyfoundation.org.

Back to my story.

The thought really never crossed my mind that I would actually meet Woody, but when I started my outpatient therapy at Miami PT, I finally met him. I expected someone much older, not someone in his early 20’s. I know when I was in my early 20’s, being altruistic and giving back was not at the top of my list back then. I also thought how when I was a year into my injury, helping others was not even remotely a priority for me. I was consumed with dealing and adjusting to this life changing and catastrophic injury. I had a hard enough time being me. When I see Woody, I’m amazed at what he does and what he has accomplished so early on in his injury and life…starting a foundation, going to college, boating, you name it. I had a hard time going ANYWHERE and doing anything, and I still do, to a certain extent. Call me selfish, but I’m still a bit consumed by myself trying to figure out all this paralyzed BS.

How you can help.

The bootcamp is on August 2nd at a place called The Fitness Factory in Rotterdam, NY. A Facebook event was created that explains everything:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1019035101459474/
The trainer and the facility will be donating their time, and rather than people paying a fee for the bootcamp, they are asking for anyone participating to make a donation to The Woody Foundation instead. Joani’s goal is to raise $6000. Now, I’m pretty sure that most of you will not be able to attend the bootcamp, but you can still help us meet this aggressive goal. Donations can be made online directly to The Woody Foundation’s website. Here’s the link:

http://www.woodyfoundation.org/event/joanis-birthday-bootcamp-fundraiser/

When you click this link, scroll down and click the “donate” button.  A generic PayPal page will come that will say “The Woody Foundation” at the top.  You are in the right place.  Log in to your PayPal account and follow the directions from there. If you don’t have a PayPal account, there is a link at the bottom of the PayPal page that will instruct you what to. There is not a section that you can make a note about the donation being in my name, but The Foundation rarely gets online donations, so they will know what the donations are for.  Lucy Foerster, the Executive Director of the Foundation is keeping track of the donations and posting goal updates on https://www.facebook.com/events/1019035101459474/

Please join me in making a donation to The Woody Foundation and this great cause. The foundation is a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, therefore, your donations are tax-deductible. You will receive a tax-deduction receipt upon completing your donation online via Paypal (using the link above). You can also send a check to the below address payable to the Woody Foundation, Inc.

Woody Foundation, Inc.
12500 Virtudes Street
Coral Gables, Florida 33156

Together, I know we can make a difference for individuals and families dealing with SCI!

Joani and I March 2014

Joani and I March 2014

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Top Chef Miami

One thing that I truly miss is cooking and throwing fabulous dinner parties. Those that know me will firmly attest that I’m all about food, cooking, and entertaining…it’s borderline an obsession. Not only do I love to create amazing experiences with food, whether just for me, a group of friends, or for the masses, I continuously immerse myself in the pop culture of food, recognizing that it is not only something that we eat to sustain life, it is something that defines us. People that love food are naturally drawn together and its no coincidence that many of our friends are either in the food business, are food obsessed hobbyists, or both. We tend to stalk people like Thomas Keller and Mario Batali rather than the Kim and Kanyes of the world.

While growing up in an Italian restaurant business family, and tugging on the apron strings of the best cook in the world, my mother, food was obviously a big part of our livelihood and our social situations. Like the Italians say: ” A tavola non si invecchia. Translation: At the table with good friends and family you do not become old.” So beautifully said.

This horrible injury didn’t just affect the use of my legs, but also my hands. I lost the function in my left hand, and have very limited function in my right hand. There are some days that i feel like i have dog paws rather than hands. You never realize how important fingers and hands are until you don’t have them. Without hands functioning, it is pretty much impossible to do the things in the kitchen that I used to do. I’m not talking about making a roast or cooking a chicken. I’m talking about very complex recipes that require fine motor skills just do the mise en place and the agility in the kitchen to work on 3 things at once. Outside of walking, not being able to create in the kitchen was probably one of my greatest losses.

A while back, I had promised our friend Bob Serpantini that I would give him a lesson on how to make an old family recipe called Pizza Nostra. I made this pizza just about every time I had people over. It was my go-to appetizer, snack or main course. I haven’t met one person who disliked it. It was like crack. People could not get enough of it. I’m not ashamed to say that I would often times have it for breakfast the next day, even after it was left out on the counter all night, unrefrigerated. I wasn’t about to waste this precious treat and wasn’t afraid of a little bacteria. Although the pizza itself was very simple and called for only a handful of ingredients, there were many nuances to the technique, and the specifics to the ingredients could not be deviated upon. Bob said he would do all of the prep and I would give the step-by-step pizza making instructions.

The plan was coming together. Bob got the dough from my brother’s restaurant in Akron and flew it down with him, and I had my very old and seasoned pizza pans (previously used in our family’s restaurant) FedEx to me. These aged and beautifully seasoned pans were probably just as important as dough itself. Ross made sure that I had all of the very specific ingredients on-hand: canned San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, freshly grated Pecorino Romano, fresh basil, purple onion, dried oregano, garlic powder, and really good olive oil. We scheduled an evening to make the pizzas, and my much anticipated opportunity to get back in the kitchen was finally coming to fruition. Bob and his wife Kathy, their son Ryan (who lives in Miami), and Ryan’s roommate Jeff came over for the Nostra lesson. Our friend Jason who is also our attorney, was staying with us that weekend and doubled as our videographer. There was a lot of wine flowing so the lesson most certainly needed to be documented.

The finished product

The finished product

We had loads of fun that evening, and I was actually able to forget for a bit that I had these major obstacles to overcome. The next installment to the Italian cooking series will be how to make perfect meatballs and Sunday sauce. This session might require a little less wine and a little more instruction!