Each of our residents have a unique, compelling, and inspiring story to tell. Take a look at just a few:
Steve Saling is a landscape architect who was diagnosed with ALS in 2006 at age 38. By pure chance, Steve met Barry Berman, CEO of Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, at an ALS conference in 2008. Steve was looking into places to live once his disease progressed; Barry was attending the conference to research nursing home options for the disabled population. Steve told Barry about his dream to create a place where people with ALS could receive care yet live an independent “normal” live. The rest is, as they say, history.
In addition to developing the remarkable technology, Steve’s goal was to create a nursing home that felt like a real home. He did this by incorporating private rooms and baths, spa, deli, cafe, and beautifully landscaped grounds.
At the Leonard Florence Center, Steve has changed the way people live with ALS. He has inspired, encouraged and, most importantly, he has shown by example how a devastating ALS diagnosis can translate into a productive and meaningful life. He travels frequently, giving presentations and helping newly diagnosed individuals. He also goes skiing, skydiving, and loves to spend time with his son, family members and friends. Clearly, he lives by his motto: “Until medicine proves otherwise, technology IS the cure.”
For Steve, it is important to prove that an ALS diagnosis is not a death sentence. As he says, “Don’t make the mistake that all my doctors did and assume that because I am 100% dependent on the care of others for the rest of my life, that I don’t have a quality of life. I can’t imagine enjoying life more.”
Patrick O’Brien, who is entirely immobilized and, on a ventilator, directed and produced the award-winning Transfatty Lives documentary by using his eyes to communicate through a special device attached to his computer. Patrick began the movie in 2010, shortly after he moved into the Leonard Florence Center. Not surprisingly, Patrick won the Audience Film awards at both the Tribeca and Milano Film Festivals. The movie spans Patrick’s wild, fun-loving days as a DJ and filmmaker into the time he was diagnosed with ALS at age 30. With the support of his friends, family, residents and staff at the Center, Patrick produced this incredible movie. He was able to capture all of the emotion, humor, and absurdity of real life – falling in love and fathering a child along the way.
Transfatty Lives, so named because of O’Brien’s love of donuts and other junk foods, depicts his personal reflections since his ALS diagnosis. In Patrick’s words: “ALS is a fatal and incurable disease. I have chosen to do something with my illness. As you will see, I turned the camera on myself and began to document my journey with ALS. This challenge has given me a focal point for my energies and will hopefully inspire others to keep moving through their own adversities.”
Prior to being diagnosed with ALS in 2014, Melissa King was an accomplished chef, business owner and avid gardener. After her diagnosis, planting a vibrant community garden seemed impossible to her since she cannot speak, eat, or walk and has very limited use of her arms/hands. But through determination, perseverance, and a little help from the staff at the Leonard Florence Center, Melissa was able to, as she puts it, “turn my dream a reality.”
A few summers ago, Melissa oversaw the planting and maintenance of three vegetable, herb, and flower gardens at the Center. Each day, Melissa was excited to get up, get dressed and tend to her plants and flowers. In a very real sense, the garden was a way for Melissa to reconnect with nature and embrace an activity she loved before her diagnosis. The fresh herbs and produce were also available for staff members and guests to enjoy all summer long.
For Melissa, the garden gave her hope. As she points out, “The Center provided me with a strong support system while enabling me to be independent.” Melissa is a big fan of Audrey Hepburn. She truly believes in one of Audrey’s most famous quotes: “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”