2002-09-28 / Community

Wings Over Wall Street, October 3

Every day when former Rockaway resident Warren Schiffer awakens, a small miracle occurs. In September 2000, Warren's wife, Toni Diamond, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or what is commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. In March 2001, Toni had to choose between dying at age 42 or going on a respirator to breathe for her for the rest of her life. Now, when Warren awakens each day, he looks at his wife to see if she is still alive. He then goes about the enormous daily task of caring for someone totally trapped in her body, unable to breathe on her own and unable to move, eat, speak, or communicate except for slight eye movement.

ALS is a devastating disease, not only for the person afflicted, but for the family and especially the caregiver. There is no cure for ALS and only 10% of ALS victims live more than 5 years. The average survival rate is 3 to 5 years. Very few ALS victims have caregivers like Warren, who is on leave from his job as a flight attendant at United Airlines and cares for Toni full-time. Warren's dedication is remarkable, but not unexpected as the father and daughter he once pulled out of the Rockaway surf can attest.

When Toni learned she had ALS she vowed not to give up, but to try to do something about eliminating this horrific disease. She and Warren founded a fundraising event now called Wings Over Wall Street (formerly Wings of Hope), a Muscular Dystrophy Association benefit for ALS research. Toni's silent call to battle was heard by friends, family, colleagues at United Airlines, other victims of ALS, and the Wall Street community. In its first year, the event raised over $650,000 in net proceeds, which provided sorely needed funds to the ALS researchers at the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Center at Columbia University and The Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins. In a remarkable show of courage and commitment, Toni attended the event last year at Tavern on the Green in Central Park by flying in by air ambulance from their apartment in Cape Cod.

This year, Toni has again issued her silent call and Wings Over Wall Street is set for Thursday, October 3, 2002, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at The New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square. Hosted by William and Stephen Baldwin, Wings Over Wall Street will include live and silent auctions and an exciting research minutes auction for ALS research. Some of the items offered for auction at the event include a 6 bottle vertical flight of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, arguably the most sought after wine in the world, and a Mikimoto Japanese Akoya "Princess Grace" pearl necklace with matching earrings. Over 1000 people are expected to attend and this year's goal is to provide the ALS researchers with over $1 million. If you would like to help by sponsoring, donating an auction item, contributing funds for research, or attending, please contact the Muscular Dystrophy Association's Manhattan office at 212-689-9040 or visit the Wings website at www.wingsoverwallstreet.org, where you can make on-line donations, see pictures from last year's event, and learn more about Toni's story.

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