Rancho's Amistad Gala is emotional and record-setting

DOWNEY - Three patients who made remarkable recoveries and the physician who has done more to help rehabilitation patients recover than any other shared the spotlight last Saturday at the 25th Annual Rancho Los Amigos Amistad Gala at the Westin Long Beach Hotel.Nearly 500 people attended the sold-out black-tie affair that raised more than $200,000 for the patients of Rancho. This was 30 percent more than had ever been raised at an Amistad Gala. "Tonight was about the patients and the legacy of our beloved Dr. Jacquelin Perry," said Rancho Los Amigos President Gene Klow. Dr. Perry and Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe were the honorary co-chairs of the Amistad Gala. Julie Knabe, Connie Martinez, Beverly Mathis and Debbie Tomlinson were the event chairs. The Silver Anniversary Amistad Gala transformed the Westin Ballroom into a beautiful setting with chairs and tables covered in black fabric and a spectacular silver overlay bringing the tables to life. Centerpieces and floral sprays created by Mia Vasquez of Saywell Florist highlighted the event colors of black, silver, red and purple. Dramatic lighting added a touch of class. Even the salads, which were served in martini glasses, added to the ambiance. After the gorgeous surroundings set an elegant tone for the evening, the attendees' hearts were touched by the incredible comeback stories of patients Rita Assoian, Zinthia Alvarado and Jerry Cavazos, which were presented in a series of videos created by the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation staff. Each of their stories have been featured in recent issues of the Patriot. First up was Rita Assoian, the remarkable young woman who overcame being hit by a car traveling 90 miles per hour to return to the track team at Glendale Community College. Resplendent in a khaki gown, her bright smile lighting up the room, Rita was accompanied to the gala by her mother Halina Esho, father Vartan Assoian and her best friend, Diana Bakchajian. After a long ovation at the conclusion of her video, Rita was called to the stage by Supervisor Knabe. "I am humbled to be here tonight with those who not only gave me back my life, but have done it for thousands of others," she said. "Rancho is the best, and I am here to tell you that I feel as if I am a walking miracle." Rita came to Rancho in a halo device after being stabilized at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. She spent 22 days in a coma after breaking 15 bones, including her neck and three vertebrae. She also suffered a major brain injury. Although her initial prognosis was grim, Rita beat the odds, thanks to her hard work and a Rancho treatment team that never gave up on her. She also had tremendous support from her family and friends, who were at Rancho encouraging her 24 hours a day. "Now I am back on the track and running faster than ever, and I have set my life goal high," Rita said. "I want to become a doctor and return to Rancho to take care of other patients the way Rancho took care of me." Next up was Zinthia, an extremely talented artist, photographer and fashion designer who overcame a spinal cord injury and severe depression to create the remarkable "Bella Unique," a painting of great beauty and emotional impact that graces the cover of the current Art of Rancho Book. Zinthia's bridge to independence was built on the strength of several key Rancho programs, including the Adolescent Support Group, the Don Knabe Pediatric Arts Program and the KnowBarriers Patient Achievement program. Along the way, she also rebuilt her self-esteem, which was lost when a drunk driver smashed his bus into the car in which Zinthia was riding, leaving her with paraplegia and unable to walk. Instead of focusing on what she couldn't do and being frustrated by her situation, Rancho helped Zinthia learn to love her wheelchair and put her limitless creativity to work. For example, at Amistad, Zinthia showed off her fashion design abilities by designing and making her dazzling white evening gown and earrings for the occasion. The Foundation created mini-masterpieces and posters of Zinthia's signature "Bella Unique" painting that were given to each guest at the event. "Zinthia has amazing talent," Supervisor Knabe said. "I have gotten to know her over the last few years, and I am always impressed with the creative vision she brings to everything she does, whether it be painting, photography or fashion. She is a wonderful young woman, and I am proud to call her my friend." "Today I love myself," Zinthia said. "Rancho has given me the tools I need to succeed, and I am ready to make my dreams come true." Then it was Jerry Cavazos' turn. After a video chronicled his comeback from a devastating stroke that incapacitated his right side and left him unable to play the saxophone that had been his passion and the centerpiece of his music career, Jerry took the stage and began to play his beloved horn…one-handed! Playing in front of 500 people with powerful stage lights in his eyes wouldn't be easy. It was by far the most people Jerry had played for since he had his stroke in 2004. But Saturday night, he scratched his seven-year itch. For the first few seconds of his performance, nothing came out of his saxophone but air. In a sense, it was a metaphor for the struggle every Rancho patient makes to overcome their catastrophic disabling illness or injury. The audience fell completely silent. Then Jerry found his groove as he played a special arrangement of Barry White's "Love Theme". With each succeeding riff, the crowd applauded louder. The tones from his saxophone were crystal clear and exceptionally beautiful. Tears streamed down the faces of many attendees as they witnessed the results of a Rancho miracle first-hand. When he finished, the crowd rose and cheered him with a two-minute standing ovation.

"This was one of the greatest moments in my life," Jerry said. "I am so thankful that Rancho gave me my life back. My therapists and doctors told me I could play my horn again, and I believed them. And tonight, my comeback is complete." "These patient stories are amazing," said Rancho CEO Jorge Orozco. "Each worked very hard with their Rancho treatment teams to define their own personal journey. Today we are working to assure that future generations of Rancho patients have the very best chance to regain as much ability as possible." "We are reinventing rehabilitation medicine, just as Rancho did twice before in the 1950s and 1970s, he said. "We are creating an enhanced medical home so that everyone with disabilities will have the best place in the world to get help when they need it." One person who has been there through all the years of Rancho clinical leadership is Jacquelin Perry, MD, who has been treating patients and doing important research at Rancho since 1955. Her work is renowned throughout the world. She has dedicated most of her life to Rancho's patients and to advancing the state of the art of Rehabilitation Medicine. The final event of the evening was indeed the most important-the announcement of the establishment of the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation's Dr. Jacquelin Perry Legacy Society. "This will provide our donors and friends an excellent way to give to Rancho through a bequest or estate, after they have provided for their family," Gene said. "With all the cutbacks in funding from government sources, the foundation will play an increasingly important role in the work of the hospital. "I am very proud to be associated with this important effort," said Dr. Perry. I support the work of the Foundation, which is needed to provide the special programs for our patients that help restore their self-esteem and assist them in moving forward with their lives." Dr. Perry also made a surprise announcement, donating $40,000 to launch the Legacy Society. BP America's General Manager of West Coast External Affairs Matt Rezvani then made a $10,000 gift to bring the total for the evening to $50,000 for the Legacy Society. "We thank Dr. Perry for her dedication to Rancho and its patients and for always supporting the Foundation," Gene said. "We are very proud to know that her name will now be forever linked with the Foundation's efforts to support Rancho, and we thank her and BP America for the gifts that inaugurate the Dr. Jacquelin Perry Legacy Society." As the audience streamed out of the event, most had moist eyes from the events they had just witnessed. "I don't think there was anybody who attended the Amistad Gala who didn't know why they were there," Supervisor Knabe said. "From Rita to Zinthia to Jerry to Dr. Perry, our hearts were touched as we experienced first-hand the miracles that happen at Rancho each and every day!" For more information, call the Rancho Foundation at (562) 401-7053 or visit www.rancho.org

********** Published: May 12, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 4