United Airlines Awards MDA’s ‘Wings Over Wall Street’ Co-Founder
United Airlines awarded Toni Diamond with a 2004 “United We Care Community Service Award” for her efforts in establishing the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s fundraiser, MDA’s Wings Over Wall Street to support ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) research.
Diamond’s motivation to join the fight against ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, came from her own ALS diagnosis in the fall of 2000. After losing feeling in her left foot while walking with her husband, Warren Schiffer, multiple tests concluded that Diamond was a victim of ALS. Her diagnosis ended her 20-plus year career as a flight attendant for United Airlines.
“She is totally incapacitated including the inability to talk, breath, eat, communicate or move,” said Warren’s brother and Wings Over Wall Street executive committee member, Larry Schiffer. “She has been able to communicate with my brother rarely intermittently on occasion with slight eye movement where he can tell whether she’s saying yes or no to a question, but it can take hours to get the answer.”
Dedicated to the cause and determined not to settle as just a victim, Diamond and Schiffer, who was also a flight attendant for United, partnered with MDA to search for a cure by co-founding the annual gala. As a result, Schiffer, originally from Rockaway, left working for United to care for his wife for the past four years.
“For the last three years, he’s been spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year caring for her,” said Warren’s brother. “It is the maximum commitment of any human being.”
“He takes care of her no matter what,” said his mother, Alma Schiffer, a Rockaway Beach resident for over 40 years. “He has to do all the paperwork. He has people donating for the auctions each year.”
While developing planning strategies for MDA’s Wings Over Wall Street® (then called “Wings of Hope”), Diamond developed severe breathing problems and was forced to choose between dying or living with a ventilator machine. After choosing life over death in 2001 at age 43, Diamond is now paralyzed, yet she continues the struggle to rid others like her of the pain caused by ALS which affects over 30,000 people each year.
“This would not be possible without Toni being willing to put her body, life and suffering out there for others to see,” Larry Schiffer said. “Toni decided not to let the disease take away who she was and she decided to fight and bring awareness and money to the researchers.”
“For him and for her, this whole thing is wonderful,” said Schiffer’s mother. “It makes them feel good to be able to do something to help others. Even if she can’t be helped, at least others will be helped.”
The United award also included a $1000 grant that Diamond has given to MDA’s Wings Over Wall Street® 2004. Since 2001, a cocktail reception with live, silent, and research minute auctions has been held each fall to raise money for ALS research. This year’s MDA’s Wings Over Wall Street® event will be hosted by actor Billy Baldwin and held Wednesday, September 29th, 2004 in New York City. This annual event has raised more than $3.5 million dollars over the past three years toward ALS research at Columbia University and John Hopkins University.
“What we’re trying to do is save lives here,” Larry Schiffer said. “Toni and Warren founded the largest MDA/ ALS fundraising event in the world and the majority of support is private donations.”
The Schiffers hope that the Rockaway community supports them in their efforts to combat this vicious disease.
“We grew up in Rockaway and have lots of friends there,” said Larry Schiffer. “We want to make sure that the people who know Toni and know what’s going on can help us and contribute.”