Steve “Stef” Stefanides
I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences in my life, but none better than the magnificent creation of friendships over my lifetime. This is especially true in regards to those families I’ve become close with and observed the growth and additions to those families. Moving away from some of those friends was especially hard when I moved from New Hampshire to relocate to the warmer climates of Florida.
I will say this though, it wasn’t long before I met and became close friends with so many young families here on Marco. I have been amazed at the amount of young families that do live, work and enjoy this wonderful community we live in.
In 1996 two of my closest friends back in New Hampshire brought a beautiful young lady into this world; her name is Amanda and a short time ago I joined with her and her mom, dad and older sister in Fort Lauderdale as they flew in to celebrate Amanda’s 21st birthday by attending a concert and escape the colder climate of New Hampshire for a few days.
Her father David is a fraternity brother of mine from college. We first met at an alumni function back in 1986. We became great friends and share a bond of brotherhood which few understand. His wife Liz and two other daughters, Marissa and Ashley have also become an important part of my life and I enjoy the time I get to spend with them.
I would never say that Amanda’s birth was anything but a wonderful gift from God, but with it came challenges, as Amanda was born with cerebral palsy. She was afflicted with a neurological disorder which primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination.
It is estimated that 764,000 children and adults are impacted, with approximately 10,000 children born a year who will develop cerebral palsy.
Despite being born with these significant challenges and physicians who gave her little hope to ever walk or have a significant quality of life, the commitment of her parents never wavered.
In a phone conversation with the family about 17 years ago I learned about a flood that had occurred in their home when a water pipe broke. When a pipe ruptures in February in New Hampshire and you’re not at home, you have a recipe for disaster. They had been staying in the White Mountains for a little family fun, returning home to a terrible mess, requiring them to embark on approximately 60 days’ worth of renovations.
Speaking with Dave over the phone I had suggested that Liz and Amanda come south and spend some of that time in the warmth of South Florida; he originally said no, for he didn’t want to inconvenience me. Liz gave him a “slight” tap to the back of his head for saying no and told him to get off the phone so she could make flight arrangements.
It’s kind of difficult getting the exercise necessary to work on stiff muscles and joints in the winter in the Northeast. The warm rays of the sun and tepid waters of the pool soon helped a little girl to begin to come into her own.
Amanda had a walker, which she hated; however, the encouragement of a treat, at what would become her favorite ice cream shop on the island each evening, would soon give her the encouragement she needed. Our award would come from seeing her grin and smile as she rolled into that ice cream shop every night and the kindness that was extended by the shop’s owner.
It wouldn’t be long before she would be scooting everywhere, strengthening the muscles in her legs, improving her balance and gaining the coordination that many of the professionals doubted she would ever obtain. She would even become a bit of a tadpole in the pool, just loving the water and getting the exercise she so greatly needed as a bonus.
Everyone quickly gravitated towards her magnetic smile and personality. In the weeks to come you couldn’t help but see the difference. It was the start of a wonderful new beginning to what would become the eventual transformation of a beautiful young lady, like that of the birth of a beautiful butterfly.
She is now in her junior year at Liberty College in Virginia and doing well. She is an independent young lady enjoying all of the adventures and loves of any young adult. Her parents, siblings, relatives and friends discounted the gloomy assessments that they had been given by their health care professionals and instead faced those challenges together with love, a positive attitude and a commitment to their daughter to not limit her potential.
The warm sands of Marco, the tropical waters, friendly faces and great ice cream treats that would serve as her reward at the end of the day would provide the foundation of what has become the accomplished young lady we know today.
I am so proud of her and equally as proud of her parents, relatives and friends who helped make this happen. I am even prouder yet to know she was catapulted towards this great day of accomplishment by a short stay on a truly magical island that helped to make this dream come true.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com