"I credit St. Mary's Healthcare System for Children with giving Zachary back his life," says Robin Portnoy, a Great Neck mother of four beautiful little boys, one of whom has come through years of fighting a life-threatening illness. For their own personal "thank you," the Portnoy family raised over $12,000 for St. Mary's second annual walk, the highest individual walk donations.
St. Mary's is known as one of the nation's premiere providers of care for children with special needs and life-threatening illnesses. According to Mrs. Portnoy, St. Mary's is "probably the only independent children's hospital in the state." The hospital does offer the only certified traumatic brain injury/coma recovery program in New York developed specifically for infants, children and adolescents who have sustained a brain injury.
Zachary, who is now 7 years old, first entered St. Mary's when he was just 4 years old. Following surgery at another area hospital to remove a brain tumor, he suffered a stroke, which left him in a coma, unable to use his arms or legs. With little hope offered by the doctors, by chance the Portnoys heard of St. Mary's Healthcare System for Children, close by in Bayside, and they transferred Zach. He remained at St. Mary's in a coma for two more months, but there, at least, the family was offered hope.
"The moment we went to St. Mary's it was only positive thoughts," said Mrs. Portnoy. "Where others say it can't be done, they (at St. Mary's) give you hope, that's what they do; they never say never, they always give you hope." Mrs. Portnoy said that she felt "very embraced" and she emphasized that she just knew Zach would receive the best care.
During his time at St. Mary's, Zach was constantly monitored and treated by a team of medical and health care professionals. He did regain consciousness, and so, in addition to physical therapy, he began receiving comprehensive treatment for spastic movements, pain, and cognitive and attention deficits. Using a special harnessed suspension system, he was retrained to walk independently and shortly after his release, Zachary began to regain his ability to walk. With continued care from St. Mary's physical therapy home care providers, Zach also relearned more basic skills and after only seven months after his admission to St. Mary's, he was home with his family.
Today Zachary Portnoy enjoys the life of a happy, normal young boy, spending time with family and friends, and, very importantly, playing with his twin brother, Benjamin and his two younger brothers, Jacob and Matthew. He is a second grade student, enjoying his class at the Saddle Rock Elementary School.
Robin Portnoy says it's all thanks to St. Mary's. "The medical staff and nurses at St. Mary's are incredible. They took such wonderful care of Zachary. They taught him how to eat and drink again. They helped a child that other doctors said would never wake up or have any kind of life."
And so, the Portnoy family wanted to give back to St. Mary's for saving their son's life, "for giving our sweet loving son back to us." To this end, the Portnoys attend the St. Mary's dinner each year and their handsome little "Zachy" has been featured in letters, press releases, a fund-raising documentary and even a New York Times ad for St. Mary's.
When it came time for the annual fund-raising walk this year, the Portnoy family and friends quickly stepped up to the plate and raised over $12,000 through their own family and friends. "We wanted to do whatever we can; I took my child home, everyone does not ... we hope to raise a little more each year," Mrs. Portnoy told the Great Neck Record in a recent interview, as 5-year-old Jacob entertained us. Jacob, the picture of health and vitality, a very bright, very engaging little boy, is all one could want in a child. By helping St. Mary's, the hope is to see more children as healthy, as normal, as full of fun as Jacob.
St. Mary's has two inpatient facilities, the one in Bayside, as well as the Westchester facility, St. Mary's Rehabilitation Center for Children. In addition to inpatient care, St. Mary's also provides home care and other services include medical services, rehabilitation, and psychological and developmental intervention. There are also after school, weekend and summer programs. And there are also weight issue programs for children and HIV/Aids programs. "The support programs are all-encompassing," Mrs. Portnoy said. The system serves 3,000 infants, toddlers, children and adolescents.
Mrs. Portnoy told the Record that St. Mary's is the only pediatric long-term home health care program in the state and possibly in the nation that offers an alternative to institutionalization for children with fragile medical conditions.
St. Mary's has won a national award for its palliative care program, for treatment for children with a life-threatening or terminal illness. Robin Portnoy says that it is a well-deserved award: "If you visit, you will be just blown away by the things they do for these children; when there is no place else, this is where to go."
To find out more about St. Mary's and to donate to this very special hospital, call St. Mary's Foundation for Children, at 718 281-8816 and ask for Ingrid Montecino.
And, oh yes, as a "thank you" to the very dynamic, very brave and loving Portnoy family, Jet Blue Airways (a St. Mary's sponsor) has donated two round-trip tickets to Florida to send Zach and his family to Disney World. We wish them a wonderful trip and an easier journey through life!