Andy Bello enthusiastically looked on from his upper deck seat at the new Yankee Stadium, cheering on his beloved Bronx Bombers as they overcame a 26-minute rain delay to defeat the Baltimore Orioles 6-4. For Bello, a Gun Hill Road resident and a member of Einstein's Lourdes Garcia Adult Spina Bifida Support Group, the July 21st visit to the stadium, arranged by Einstein and the Yankees, was a rare opportunity to see his favorite team play live.
Byron Solano and his sister share a tender moment during the game."I watch every game on television or listen to it on the radio," Bello proudly proclaims. "But if I could, I would watch every game at Yankee Stadium. Being with thousands of fans was exciting. It was one of the best experiences of my life."
Bello was one of 30 who received free tickets to the game, and one of 14 in the group that attended who suffer from spina bifida, a permanently disabling birth defect caused by the incomplete closure of the embryonic neural tube. Spina bifida causes varying degrees of physical and developmental disabilities, and related medical problems that force many into isolation, rarely having the opportunity to leave their homes.
More than two years ago, after seeing a need to bring together patients with spina bifida -- many of whom had received care at either Einstein, Montefiore or Jacobi -- Lourdes Garcia, a woman also suffering from the affliction, sought to create the Einstein Adult Spina Bifida Support Group. Her goal was to create a sense of belonging for each individual.
"Lourdes wanted a place where people with spina bifida could socialize and discover new opportunities," said Dr. Robert W. Marion, executive director of the Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC), who along with Joanne Florio Siegel, director of community affairs at CERC, helped his patient and friend to make her dream a reality.
With help from Dr. Marion, Ms. Siegel and members of the Einstein staff, Ms. Garcia led the group, which met on Saturday mornings in Einstein's Kennedy building. In addition to providing members with the opportunity to socialize, the meetings featured guest speakers and parties.
Dr. Robert W. Marion, Executive Director of the
Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center and
Lourdes Garcia Adult Spina Bifida Support Group
director Luz Cantres helped to make the visit to
Yankee Stadium a reality.Unfortunately, Ms. Garcia passed away last November due to complications of her underlying condition, before her vision was truly realized. Her memory lives on.
"Lourdes somehow managed to face each day with a smile on her face and with happy and supportive words for others," recalled Dr. Marion. "Her group has lived on, aiding those who Lourdes felt closest to, and serving as a permanent legacy to her."
With the group renamed in Ms. Garcia's honor, Luz Cantres, stepped in as director and, through member suggestions, expounded on her good friend's vision, deciding they would schedule more group outings -- with a Yankee game being the main goal.
"Most members of the group have never been to the old or new stadium," said Ms. Cantres. "And for someone living with spina bifida, it means a lot to be able to go to a game and enjoy it just like any other Yankee fan would."
After an exchange of e-mails between Dr. Marion and the Yankees, the Bronx Bombers agreed to provide 30 tickets to a game free of charge. Ironically, the game took place in the midst of "Hope Week," a Yankee promotion that honored individuals with disabilities who persevere and excel.
"One of our organization's core principles is to give back to the community," said Jason Zillo, the Yankees' media relations director. "The reward is seeing people able to enjoy a baseball game and be part of the baseball environment. It's a very uplifting experience."
But the event almost never came to fruition. "It was touch and go for awhile," said Ms. Siegel. "It's difficult to travel in motorized wheelchairs in heavy rain and the game was almost cancelled, but in the end, the weather remained calm enough for all to enjoy."
It was smooth sailing from there, with guests coming from throughout the Bronx via Access-A-Ride to meet with Einstein staff in front of the new Yankee Stadium. The group enjoyed a visit to the Yankee Museum before heading to their seats in the upper deck, which provided a great view of the game.
"We are so thankful to the Yankees for their support before, during and after the game," said Ms. Cantres. "Being able to plan this event and accomplish this goal was to me a dream come true. If Lourdes were still with us today, she would be so proud. It was a day none of us will ever forget."
Posted on: Friday, July 31, 2009