2005-08-25 / Community

Listen To The Voice Of Their Hearts: Donate To Fight ALS

by Roseanne Honan

Pictured: Toni Diamond and Warren Schiffer at their wedding in 1990.Pictured: Toni Diamond and Warren Schiffer at their wedding in 1990. “I have chosen to live, fight, and not allow this disease to define who I am. The voice of my heart is crying out to all of you.”

Those were the words of Toni Diamond, the founder of Wings over Wall Street, a foundation dedicated to the research of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and muscular dystrophy. This year, at the annual benefit held on September 22 at the New York Marriott Marquis from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Diamond’s life and dedication to the foundation will be honored.

Raised in Southwick, Massachusetts, Toni became a flight attendant with United Airlines, where she met fellow flight attendant Warren Schiffer, a Rockaway Beach native. The two eventually married in 1990, and settled first in the Rockaways, and then Connecticut. It was a decade later, in the fall of 2000, when Toni experienced the frightening first signs of ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, when her foot started to become paralyzed.

ALS is a progressively debilitating disease that attacks the muscle, eventually causing complete paralysis and death, usually from respiratory complications.

As the disease spread throughout her body, Diamond refused to become a victim, and she and husband Warren launched a fundraising drive to fund a cure, partnering with the MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) in 2001 to create what is now known as Wings Over Wall Street.

In 2001, Diamond had to make a difficult decision as the disease increasingly affected her ability to breathe. She could choose either to die, or be on a ventilator for the remainder of her life. Diamond chose to live and continue her fight against ALS. Her husband Warren became her caretaker 24/7. She spent the next few years forging ahead with her message of strength and hope, and was known as the soul of the organization.

On the website for the charity, Toni’s beaming face on her wedding day is a reminder of the debilitating effects of ALS, as it rapidly stole Diamond’s ability to move, speak, or smile.

On November 11, 2004, Diamond lost her battle with ALS. She was 46.

Diamond urged others to “Listen to the sound…of the voice of my heart.” Her heart, voice and spirit will live on through the continuing efforts of all those who work to find a cure. Warren and the Schiffer family hope that the Rockaway community will rally together and show support for the cause.

Since its inception four years ago, MDA’s Wings Over Wall Street has raised over $4 million dollars for ALS research. Their annual gala features several auctions and a chance this year to win a 2006 Ford Mustang GT convertible when you donate towards the foundation.

To donate or to order tickets for the September 22 event, please call (212) 689-9040, or email: specialeventwings @mdausa.org. For more information about Wings Over Wall Street, please visit their site at www.wingsoverwallstreet.org.

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