Today is the Roy Campanella story:
This one I still can’t believe happened to me. To understand why, you have to read one of my previous stories. The short version is that when I was about 10 yrs. old, my dad put on the Brooklyn Dodger vs. New York Giants week night baseball game on our 10 inch black and white Dumont TV. Because it was a school day I had to go to bed at 9pm and the game was only in the 6th inning…. When the Dodgers were down to their last out of the game, Roy Campanella hit a game tying home run, I let out a yell from my bed which was right behind the TV. My dad was so happy that he said I could get out of bed to watch the rest of the game, which the Dodgers lost in extra innings.
Roy became a quadriplegic in the winter before the Dodgers & Giants left NYC for L.A. and San Francisco… so tragically he never got to play for the Dodgers in L.A. He did his rehabilitation at the Rusk Institute after his car accident.
27 years later, Roy was back at Rusk due to a very bad bed sore that got so infected, it almost took his life…. after his life saving surgery, he came to Rusk for over 6 months, lying in a circular bed, until the surgery healed and once it healed he had a few months of physical therapy to gain whatever strength he had before the surgery. When I found out that he was back at Rusk and would have to stay for a long period of time to heal his wound and go for physical therapy, I remembered the story of that baseball game and decided to go visit him, introduce myself and tell him the story of his game tying home run against the Giants in the Polo Grounds….. He had the nicest smile I’ve ever seen on a paralyzed person, and a personality to match…. The book on his life story was called “It’s Good To Be Alive,” and that was the name of the CBS movie too!
His eyes perked up when he heard me tell my story and he told me he remembered that home run and that he hit it completely out of the stadium, he said that I described his home run exactly as it happened and laughed when I got to the part when my dad said I could get out of bed and watch the rest of the game with him… well, to my surprise, after I left his room, he had told this story to his doctor and asked his doctor if I could be assigned to be his social work therapist… So for the next 6 months I visited him every work day and helped him to deal with his long days waiting to heal so he could go back home and continue his public relations job with the New York Mets Organization. The hours I spent with him, I felt, was more uplifting to me then it was for him… He really practiced what his book and movie said, “It’s Good To Be Alive.” As we developed a relationship with each other, he told me of his love of eating hot dogs from the guys who sold them on the streets of NY… So at least twice a week I would go outside to First Ave. and bring him back 2 hot dogs from the hot dog stand… This small gesture on my part made him feel so appreciative and so happy.
When it came time for discharge, he invited me & my wife to come to his home in Westchester for dinner and to see his trophy room. That was one fantastic day for me. I couldn’t believe that I was in his home and seeing and touching his 3 Most Valuable Player Awards, and so many other plaques and trophies that I thought I was in a wing of The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I felt like a kid in a candy store. He also invited me to go to Met games and he gave me tickets to about 6 games. These were fantastic seats, right behind home plate. Some games even in the first row behind the screen… I even had those seats for the Mets Old Timers Game and got to see Roy go on the field to a standing ovation when they announced his name on the P.A. system. After a few years, as Roy got older, the winters were too hard on his body… The L.A. Dodgers, the only team he ever played for, gave him the same public relations job he had with the Mets. So he and his wife moved out to L.A. We exchanged Christmas Cards and spoke on the phone once in a while so we could stay in touch… and one day a few years later I saw on the TV news that he had passed away… I still miss him dearly but he put so much happiness in my life that I was able to work with these severely challenged patients for 35 years….. And now that you have read my patient stories, I am sure you can see why.
Tomorrow will be the last patient story….and then back to my life and the story of my dad… who had a Manhattan street named after him in 1982, less then 1 year after he died…if you think I am making this up, you can Google MOSCO ST.
Read the next post Taking Stock Day 45.