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A new year brings new challenges for victim of accident

SI Advance, 2000-01-09

 Island man faces long period of rehabilitation after having both legs amputated On Thanksgiving Day, Gary Tropiano of Westerleigh was making a delivery for his brother-in-law’s business, Abbate Bakery in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

The young father was anticipating a happy holiday at home later that day, but fate dealt a cruel blow. His car was hit by a vehicle being driven by another Staten Islander in Brooklyn that day — 53-year-old Joseph Guerasio, of Eltingville. Guerasio was recently arraigned on two counts of assault as well as operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, according to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

Tropiano, always an active man, suffered the cruel fate of losing two legs due to the severe injuries he received in the crash. One leg needed to be amputated above the knee, the other below the knee. He was hospitalized for weeks at New York University Hospital, where he must return for therapy soon. But the 38-year-old dad says he has six very good reasons to keep goingafter the devastating accident — his six children, ages 9, 7, 5, 4, 2 and 18 months.

“I think about those kids every day. When you have a bad day, they make you feel better. They always have,” Tropiano said by phone to the Advance before coming home from the hospital. “I feel no bitterness. I just want to get better for my kids.”

His devoted wife, Maria, 36, who has been by his side ever since the accident, said her husband is handling this much like he handled his life before the crash.

“He’s a very energetic kind of person,” she said. “He never was the kind of person to lay back. This kind of took his life by surprise. But now he just wants to get better — he’s looking forward.”

Mrs. Tropiano said the accident affects more than one generation in her family.

“My mother’s very ill. We live in the same house and he’s always been very nice to her, helping out whenever he can. This just gives him more incentive. He’s keeping us strong with his good attitude.”

How do you explain an injury like this to children?

“I tell them no matter what, their dad is here and he’s going to be OK. We go day by day. God willing, one day he’ll walk again, with a lot of time and help,” she explained.

The Tropianos say they’re not going to give up on the one dream they’ve had since they were first married: to purchase a bakery of their own on Staten Island. That deal has been put on hold for the time being.

Mrs. Tropiano said she has a message for all who read this piece.

“Everybody — it’s only human nature to take life for granted. But don’t. Everything you have is precious. And the thought of anyone else going out and drinking during the holidays shakes me. Don’t do it.”

The Tropianos have a very supportive family. When the accident happened, Mrs. Tropiano’s brother, Ralph Guzzo, called with the bad news and said he was already on the way to pick her up. He beeped her dad, who went to the hospital. Her other siblings followed.

“Everyone was exceptional. And my brother Ralph and Gary are more like brothers than brothers-in-law.”

Alot of other Staten Islanders have been stepping forward to help, especially given the season.

The Doctor Theodore A. Atlas Foundation has made a donation to help tide the family over while their main breadwinner recovers. Teddy Atlas went to the hospital to visit personally. Judge Mike Brennan donned a Santa suit and rode via fire engine to the Tropiano home for the holidays.

Sean Sweeney, a longtime friend who is active with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, visited at the hospital and out doing fund-raising to make sure

Santa connects with the Tropiano kids.

Sweeney’s parents, owners of Sisters 2 salon, made a generous donation, with the help of staff and patrons.

“Gary’s an inspiration,” Sweeney said after a recent visit with his friend.

“The only time I saw himtear up is when he talked about the generosity of everyone since the accident.”

St. Teresa’s R.C. Church School (which two of the Tropiano kids attend) and Moore Catholic High School each recently held dress-down days. For a donation, students could go casual and remember the family at the same time.

A group of sophomores from Notre Dame Academy — Mary Elizabeth Conway, Kristen Heydolph, Amanda Pappalardo, Sarita Parekh and Christina Salerno — arranged for and decorated the Tropiano family Christmas tree. They were joined by Tommy Conway, an eighth grader at St. Teresa’s, who also donated his own fire truck to the kids.

The Tropianos are now looking ahead at the road to rehabilitation. He is home for a three week period before going back to be fitted for prosthetics and beginning therapy.”I don’t know if they’ll treat me as an outpatient or put me in a program,” Tropiano said. “I think it’s all up to the individual. And I think God’s on my side. I have a really good wife and that makes a difference.”

“We just want to thank everyone for what they’re doing,” said Maria Tropiano. “It has made us come to realize that there are so many good people.”