Rancho's Amistad Gala delivers memories to last a lifetime

DOWNEY - "A Mardi Gras for Miracles!" delivered many magical moments for the more than 500 supporters of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center who packed the sold-out Long Beach Westin Hotel last Saturday for the 26th Annual Amistad Gala.The evening's most inspiring moment was the showstopping performance of Katy Sullivan, wife of Amistad honoree Jay Cramer. Born without legs and taught how to run properly with prosthetic legs by Rancho physical therapist Julie Kasayama, Katy has run herself onto the U.S. Paralympic track team and will be representing the United States at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London this fall. Saturday, she strode to the stage on the titanium legs her husband calls "the sexiest thing I have ever seen," stood tall and delivered a spectacular performance of "For Good" from the musical "Wicked" in honor of Jay. It was a total surprise to the Amistad honoree, who sat with tears streaming down his face as his incredible wife held the audience spellbound with her mesmerizing performance of the love song. Jay wasn't the only one crying...tears were flowing freely throughout the audience in what was perhaps the most touching moment in the history of the Amistad Gala. As he neared the song's end, Katy got a tear in her voice as well. When she finished, the audience leapt to its collective feet and gave her a thunderous two-minute standing ovation. "It was a moment all those of us lucky enough to be there that night will remember the rest of our lives," said Amistad Event Chair Beverly Mathis of Downey. It was one of many memorable highlights during the evening, which included: - Enjoying the beautiful silent auction, which transported attendees to New Orleans and the Mardi Gras thanks to the highly creative design of Rancho volunteer Judy Glover of Downey. - Opening the doors to the ballroom, which had been transformed into a breathtaking Mardi Gras with themed tables and linens, featuring centerpieces and stage decoration by Mia Vasquez of Downey's Saywell Florist and special lighting and staging by David Raybould of Rainbow Sound and Lighting. Supervisor Don Knabe joining the Zydeco group "LA LA" in an impromptu Mardi Gras dance that delighted the crowd just after the ballroom doors were opened. As always, the Supervisor entertained and inspired the audience with his fun and heartfelt work as the event's Master of Ceremonies and auctioneer. "We convey a very special thanks to Rancho's greatest champion, Supervisor Don Knabe, who is the wind beneath the wings of our hospital," said Rancho Foundation President Connie Martinez. Honoree Matt Rezvani's acceptance speech, which touched the hearts of the audience when he called Rancho's work "nothing short of magical" and commended the world-renowned hospital for the "miracles that happen there each day." Honoree Jay Cramer inspiring the audience by explaining how he overcame a catastrophic accident that left him a quadriplegic to dedicate himself to helping his fellow Rancho patients lead more fulfilling lives. "Jay and Katy created an atmosphere of love and hope and triumph over seemingly impossible adversity," Bev said. "I can't ever remember being so inspired." The audience responded by helping the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation raise more than $260,000 after expenses, 30 percent more than any of the previous 25 Amistad Galas. Wallis Annenberg, Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation, provided major support to the Amistad Gala. "The Annenberg Foundation's gift of $100,000 as Amistad Presenting sponsor is the largest single gift we have ever received for this event," Connie said. "We are very thankful for everything Wallis has done for Rancho and our patients. Those of us at Rancho carry her in our hearts because of her unwavering support of our hospital." Those who attended the gala had high praise for "A Mardi Gras for Miracles!" Former Downey Mayor Bob Winningham, who attended with his wife Michele, said they "are always supportive of organizations that have the greatest impact on helping individuals with special needs. Over the past many years we have chosen to support the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation due to their excellent work in providing the financial aid necessary to benefit the many patients that rely on the extraordinary care that is given by the doctors, therapists, nurses, volunteers and staff of Downey's very own premier rehabilitation hospital. This year's Amistad was a fabulous evening to support the Foundation and honor two great individuals in Matt and Jay...to us it is the must-attend event of the year". "Last weekend, I again had the pleasure of serving as the evening's emcee," Supervisor Knabe said. "I am so pleased that this year's 'Mardi Gras for Miracles!' raised $260,000, the most ever. And no place is more deserving! Miracles occur every day at Rancho and the patients are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. Perspective comes quickly into focus when one sees the incredible art that a patient is able to painstakingly produce with a brush in her mouth...or the incredible effort of an athlete who has spent countless hours of training and conditioning while in a wheelchair." "What a great party! The best Amistad ever," said Downey civic leader Mary Lou Schmidt, who has attended virtually every Amistad Gala. "Congratulations to event chair Beverly Mathis - it was outstanding! Katy's song and Jay's commentary were just wonderful. Everyone had tears in their eyes. How lucky Rancho is to have them as part of their family, and what a beautiful love story. Rancho's future is nothing but bright!" "It was a fantastic evening, full of fun, good food and wonderful people," said Bert Wootan, Vice President of Supply & Distribution for Lunday-Thagard, Co. "The atmosphere was totally electric with the 'Mardi Gras' theme. The program was extremely special and brought a tear to everyone's eye and finished up with a standing ovation. It was a marvelous evening." "The work of Beverly Mathis and her team made this Amistad an outstanding event," said former Downey Mayor Meredith Perkins. This along with the comments of the two honorees will make this Amistad one that will be remembered for a long time." And finally, Downey City Councilmember Deacon Mario Guerra said, "We all know how special Rancho is, but Amistad brings it to light for all to see. It is an evening of tears and yet joy at what can happen. The evening was emotional, hearing Jay's story and seeing the love he and Katy share. He touched us even more by telling us how happiness is God given. He found his love through Katy and laughter every day. We saw their hearts and were amazed and inspired at how big a heart can be." Both honorees shared their Rancho stories with the audience. Matt Rezvani the general manager of west coast external affairs for BP America Inc, received the Amistad Community Service Award. He was introduced to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center a decade ago by close friends (and fellow Amistad honorees) Jim Hankla, Don Knabe and Carmen O. Perez. His first exposures to Rancho were attending an Amistad Gala and Art of Rancho Show, and he became an instant supporter. "Supervisor Knabe wasn't exaggerating when he said miracles happen at Rancho each and every day," Matt said. "Once I saw this magical place for myself, I knew I had to help." "He took the time to learn about Rancho, and once he saw the difference Rancho made in the lives of its patients, he began supporting the Foundation in a major way," Jim said. "His leadership has been simply extraordinary, and Rancho is a better place today because of Matt." "Matt Rezvani has said 'Yes' every time Rancho has asked him to help,"Carmen said. "He is a great guy who really cares about our patients. He is simply a wonderful friend to Rancho, our staff, and most importantly, our patients." "When you think of all the people who have received this award over the past 26 years, it is indeed very humbling to receive this honor," Matt said. "I am very thankful to Rancho." "We are very grateful for Matt's passion for our patients and programs," Supervisor Knabe said. "He is a very kind, caring and compassionate person, and we are proud to present him with the Amistad Award." Jay Cramer was a talented young actor training for an appearance on "Survivor" by bouldering in Malibu six years ago when he slipped and took a very hard fall. "I hit my head on a giant rock and suffered a major spinal cord injury," he says. "I realized I would no longer be fighting to win a TV reality show any more. Now I would be fighting for my life." He improved day-by-day and week-by-week, relearning everything from swallowing to speaking. His Rancho therapists encouraged him to try his hand at stand-up comedy. "In 25 years as an entertainer, I had thought long and hard about doing stand-up, but I never had the courage to try," Jay says. "But after my accident I had everything to gain and nothing to lose." Jay's therapy team suggested that he take part in the annual Performing Arts of Rancho show--and he did. It was clear that he had a special gift. In a matter of months, he was a stand-up comedian-even though he couldn't stand up. He was performing on stages throughout Los Angeles. The LA Improv named Jay "L.A.'s Funniest Newcomer" in 2007 and "L.A.'s Funniest Comic" in 2009. "But my biggest honor is the Amistad Award for Individual Achievement," Jay said. "It is very rewarding to think that my work is so appreciated. I accept this award on behalf of all my fellow Rancho patients." Jay has saved his best work for Rancho. "Rancho is where my heart is," he says. "I met my wife Katy at Rancho and we fell in love here." Today, Jay is the Director of Rancho's Performing Arts program. Under his leadership, Rancho patients are now able to entertain at inpatient classes, at special events at the hospital and in the community, as well as twice a year at the Performing Arts of Rancho show. "The show helped me on my road to independence, and it has made a huge difference for many of my fellow patients as well.," he said. He also manages the Patient Resource Center, is a KnowBarriers peer mentor, and serves on the hospital's Patient Advisory Council. When he thinks back to his bad break on the rocks of Malibu, Jay feels that he has gained much more than he lost. "Katy and I are building a wonderful life together, and I have laughed more in the last six years than in any other time period of my life," he says. "I have learned that humor is a wonderful path to happiness and that a good strong smile heals all. "On behalf of all the patients and staff of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, our patients and their families, we wish to thank all those who were a part of this very special event celebrating the amazing work Rancho Los Amigos does each day to assist our patients in reaching their potential," said Rancho Chief Executive Officer Jorge Orozco. "In these challenging economic times, we are especially grateful for all those who supported our sold-out event as we work to help Rancho provide the very best in rehabilitation medicine to assist our patients in realizing the power of their dreams," Connie said. For further information, call the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation at (562) 401-7053 or visit rancho.org, facebook.com/rancholosamigosrehab or twitter.com/ranchorehab.

********** Published: April 5, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 51