Jim Hatala of Dunkirk had several things to do to prepare for his ankle/heel fusion surgery Wednesday. He had surgery on his opposite foot after a fall from a second story last summer, so he knows what to expect. Most were the standard pre-operative tests and doctor's appointments that all patients are subject to.
However, there was one thing on his checklist that wasn't ordered by his surgeon. Hatala plans to walk from Dunkirk to Erie County Medical Center as a fundraiser and to raise awareness for The RO Foundation, an organization through Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation that assists individuals in need with the costs incurred by traveling for medical care.
Hatala, who received assistance from the foundation during his first surgery, attended one of the three annual fundraisers that the RO Foundation hosts the Sons of Liberty Bike Run, held in July. After his fall, and after exhausting all benefits from his insurance plan, he sought help to pay for medical transportation to and from appointments and was subsequently denied. That's when he turned to the RO Foundation for help.
OBSERVER?Photo by Ann Belcher
Walkers step off Sunday morning from the City Pier as they joined Jim Hatala in raising funds and awareness for The RO Foundation.
"Just seeing the T-shirts that were made up at the bike run, and all the activities there, it just kind of dawned on me to do this to help give back to them, and it steamrolled and became bigger than anticipated. At the time, all I was hoping for was for a fitness center or gym to donate some time to us to walk on some of their treadmills," Hatala said.
As a machine operator for Berry Plastics, Hatala has to be on his feet for work, and is hoping to fully recover from this second surgery and return to work. After rounding up 60-plus walkers, he stepped off with the registered walkers on Sunday morning from the City Pier as part of his first leg of the walk, which will take him as far as Brant. From there, he planned to stop and be driven back to the Beach House Grill at Wright Park, where a chicken barbecue provided by Mike Porpiglia, music and a sizeable auction took place to raise even more funds. He will then continue on foot the rest of the way to Buffalo, leading him to ECMC for his Wednesday procedure.
With their registration fee, walkers were issued green T-shirts stating "I'd Walk a Mile in Your Shoes." Walkers had the choice of how far they wanted to travel before joining the celebration at the Beach House Grill.
"I do want to stress, this is important to me, that I just came up with the idea. This is really about the groups of people, the volunteers, the walkers, all of the businesses and organizations and individuals who donated gift baskets for the auction, who cooked the chicken for the barbecue and especially it's about The RO Foundation. I'm just a central figure who had an idea - it's really just a dream without all of the people to make it happen," Hatala said.
Joseph C. Russo Jr., one of the two co-founders of the organization is one such person. Having to travel and exhaust out of pocket funds unexpectedly because of his own situation, he designed his own idea three years ago and teamed up with Maggie Owen, a veteran Relay for Life team leader, who lost both parents to cancer. The two know the frustrations people arrive with when recognizing they're in need of help. The foundation's mission is to help patients and their families with unanticipated transportation costs.
"People come to us frustrated. Sometimes they've been to other resources and have been turned down for help; sometimes we're their last resort. They come to us needing assistance with the out-of-pocket expenses that health insurances don't cover and that they don't expect to encounter. Expenses like traveling back and forth to hospitals or specialists, we all know what gas prices are like. Money for tolls, any overnight stays in hotels, meals. That's why we started this, you don't know that you'll be in need of all of these things, until it actually happens to you," stated Russo.
The Foundation services families and individuals within a 20-mile radius of Dunkirk, stretching from Angola, westward to Westfield and Ripley. The application process is straightforward and can be found online at www.rofoundation.com. A doctor's signature is required to legitimize the reason for travel, and as Russo stated, "I'm going to say we probably raised $1,500 from Jim's walk today, that will allow us to keep going and help at least 4 to 6 families."
One hundred percent of Sunday's proceeds will be given to the RO Foundation. Both Russo and Hatala spoke about the amazing generosity of the Dunkirk area, and surrounding communities for their willingness to continually help one another in need.
"This community is amazing - they just keep on giving. The main thing to keep in mind is that we're assisting local people through The RO Foundation. We exist to help local people. Anything we raise, it stays right here to benefit local families," stated Russo.
Russo commended Hatala and encourages anyone to start a fundraiser to help them assist local families in need. Recently he added, a daycare provider held a bake sale for them and netted approximately $1,500.
Hatala is looking forward to getting his second operation out of the way and noted he was told by doctors during treatment for his fall that he may never walk again.
"With my Polish heritage, that was the quickest way to get me to do something was to tell me I couldn't. I love proving people wrong, and I looked at that as motivation."
The walk will be a good motivator for his recovery, and will give him an edge on the physical therapy that he will be doing once he's finished with his surgery. Hatala concluded "I'd just like to thank everyone for all of the things they've done, some have just totally blown my mind with their generosity. That's how we change as people. Never underestimate what a group of community citizens can do that's how change happens."
For more information on the RO Foundation, see its website, or visit NCCF's website at www.nccfoundation.org. The RO Foundation just completed its Shake on the Lake event in August, and is looking towards a unique and sizeable event in October with the Friends West Fest/ Patrick K. Coughlin/Missing Links Community Connection.