WARWICK – On March 26, 2003, 12-year-old Tori Lynn Andreozzi was struck by a drunk driver as she walked home from school. Suffering a traumatic brain injury, Tori survived the impact, but has lived in a state of minimum consciousness and paralysis ever since. In honor of her daughter, Cathy Andreozzi began the Tori Lynn Foundation, a non-profit organization which seeks to educate young people on good decision making, including the perils of drinking and driving, shortly after. In 2008, Andreozzi saw her daughter’s legs move for the first time since she was struck, with assistance of a functional electrical stimulation (FES) bike at a Massachusetts YMCA. Last Thursday, the mother-daughter duo from Narragansett and the Foundation partnered with the YMCA of Greater Providence to host a dance-themed fundraiser in the name of purchasing a FES bike to donate to a Rhode Island YMCA for public use, in the hope that others will benefit from the equipment as much as Tori has.
At a young age, Tori had ambitions of becoming a professional dancer, and thus, the Crowne Plaza in Warwick was packed Thursday evening for “Dancing Under the Stars: Movement, Miracles and Magic,” in which local community members partnered with dance studio instructors to compete for the Community’s Choice Award. Judging the competition was Steven G. O’Donnell, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Providence; Ashlee Bourque, Director of Arts and Humanities, YMCA of Greater Providence and Kobi Dennis, Providence Community Organizer.
“We filled the whole tent at the Crowne Plaza,” said Andreozzi of the evening. “The feeling of the event really was magical.”
Andreozzi and her daughter discovered the FES bike following a string of hospitalizations for Tori due to pneumonia, a common affliction for those who are largely immobile.
“Like a lot of parents before me and unfortunately many after me, I got kind of patted on the back a bit and told, ‘this is how you lose the ones you love when they’re immobile,” said Andreozzi on the pneumonia issue. “I did a lot of research and we changed a lot of protocols in terms of what we did and how we did it - we brought a lot of equipment into our home to try and turn Tori’s respiratory health around. But there was one thing I could not replicate - and that was movement, until I found a state-of-the-art piece of exercise equipment that was passive. If you couldn’t move, it moved you.”
The search for a public FES bike brought Tori and her mom to the Newman YMCA in Seekonk, Mass., where Andreozzi describes seeing Tori use the bike as “a miracle.”
“My daughter got to go, two times a week, on Monday and Friday, to use the bike, and trained technicians would strategically place electrodes to monitor the muscles on her legs,” she said. “After 11 years of seeing my once world champion martial artists daughter only go between a hospital bed and wheelchair, it was a miracle to see her legs move.”
“I’ve done lots of things with Tori over the years,” Andreozzi continued. “I’ve annoyed doctors, I’ve pestered institutes to allow us into programs and studies; you do what you have to for your child. I didn’t have to do any of that this time. I just had to purchase a membership to a YMCA.”
With the hopes of allowing other families the same experience, support rallied for the fundraiser. Competing dancers at “Dancing Under the Stars” included Narragansett resident Bob Dillion of Eagle Creek Software Services; Blaine Carroll – Delta Dental of Rhode Island; Carlos Dominguez – Hasbro; Dr. Claudia Wheeler – Lifespan; Eddy, Larry and Lenny Gemma – Gem Plumbing & Heating Services; Kasim Yarn – Veterans Affairs for Rhode Island; Liz Catucci – Batchelor Frechette McCrory Michael & Co.; Melissa Polom – EXP Realty; Nicole Dominguez – Kindermusik International and Rosie Fernandez – Cox Communications. Those participating were partnered with instructors from Fred Astaire Dance Studios across the state, including Caleb and Rusina Converse of Fred Astaire Narragansett, whose free-of-charge “Danceability” program, which runs in partnership with the Tori Lynn Foundation, inspired Tori by opening up dance to those with immobility or severe physical injury.
According to Andreozzi, the night made for great success, in more ways than one.
“It was a success in so many ways because number one, so many people were not aware that something like [the FES bike] existed,” she said. “So now their loved ones who had a stroke, or a traumatic brain injury, or Parkinsons, or MS or ALS - now they can go in search of something like that. It gave us a sense of community and was a social event for Tori. It built a community between the dancers, we introduced people to the joy of dance.”
Further, Andreozzi reports her original goal of $50,000 toward a new FES bike was surpassed.
“We had about $48,000 prior to the start of the event,” she said. “After sharing Tori’s story that evening, we had some incredibly generous donors who came forward with donating the cost of a bike, and the offer of a match of anything up to another cost of a bike.”
Now, Andreozzi believes multiple bikes can be purchased for the Kent County YMCA, along with affiliated costs of the equipment such as paying for the electrodes and other professional services.
The best part of the evening for Andreozzi, however, was not in tallying how much money had been raised but rather, seeing her daughter take to the dance floor.
“The highlight of the event was actually seeing someone who utilizes a FES bike get on the floor and dance,” she said.
To learn more about the Tori Lynn Foundation and its mission, visit www.torilynnfoundation.org.