Christmas dreams do come true

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE, 2006-12-09

All Michael Medina wanted was some independence, and with the help of the Atlas Foundation, he got it.

Santa Claus came early this year and brought the perfect gift for Michael Medina: Independence.

The Graniteville teen-ager has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative condition that requires him to rely on a wheelchair. Now Michael will be able to move unattended, and with greater flexibility, around his home. The renovations came courtesy of the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation. Headed by Teddy Atlas Jr., the son and founder of the foundation’s late namesake, the non-profit charitable organization has a strong reputation for helping those in need with no place else to turn. For his part, Michael doesn’t see himself as disabled.”I’m just another person, just one of the guys, and this gives me more independence,” he said of the renovations. “Even my friends treat me the same, and I think it’s because of the way I am; they just see me as one of the guys,” said Michael.

“As a mother with a child who has a disability, I want nothing more than to see my son happy and have more independence,” said Mildred Ortiz, 53, the teen’s mother. She added that she is grateful to the foundation for everything it has done for her son.

The renovations on Ms. Ortiz’s small two-bedroom apartment included making the family bathroom bigger and renovating his mother’s old room – now Michael’s – so that he could easily navigate to the bathroom in his wheelchair. The new and improved digs also now provide Michael with better access to the shower and bathroom spaces so that he will no longer need assistance from his mom.

The foundation initiated the construction work, which was donated by Herb Chan of Champion Construction Corp., West Brighton. Out of pocket, it would have cost $30,000.”Michael is such a great kid. He just appreciates everything you do for him,” said Frank Lettera, a foundation board member.And while the family’s apartment was being renovated, Michael and his mom stayed for a week free in the Hilton Garden Inn, Bloomfield – also courtesy of the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation.

“It was nice. I still went to school, but when I got home it was like a vacation. I had my laptop and I got to get room service,” said the Susan Wagner High School freshman.”Michael didn’t know what was going on until Sunday, and then I said, ‘It’s time for us to go,’ and when he saw it he was in awe,” said Ms. Ortiz. “He was so happy that he would be able to do things on his own.”

The foundation also gave Michael a plasma TV and his mother a new mattress. Michael and his mother are no strangers to the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation – it previously provided a ramp so he could get in and out of the house more easily. Last year, the foundation gave him a wheelchair and laptop, and provided him with transportation in April to the F.I.R.S.T. (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition in Atlanta when Michael’s elite school team at his former alma mater, Laurie Intermediate, was scheduled to compete.

“It is their contributions that have made all this possible,” said Ms. Ortiz. “They’ve done more for me in the time I’ve known them than most people I’ve known my whole life,” said Michael.Kiawana Rich is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at rich@siadvance.com.

CAP: Thanks to the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, renovations to the Graniteville home of Michael Medina make it easier for the teen, who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, to move around in his wheelchair.

CRED: Staten Island Advance/ Jin Lee