During a power outage, he could not charge a medical device. He’s advocating for a bill to help change that for others

It was during Hurricane Irma that Miami local Franco Di Paolo found his passion. He had lost his hearing at a young age and received a cochlear implant at the age of two.

Everything changed during that storm in 2017 when the power went out. Franco and his family had prepared with emergency supplies, but without power there was no way to charge his implant. Eventually he could no longer hear.

Because of this life-changing experience, Franco became determined to be an advocate for the millions of people who depend on battery-powered medical devices.

“The batteries in my implant are internal, so there’s no way to have extras on hand,” said Di Paolo, now 21.

“Without power, my ability to hear was gone until power was restored to my neighborhood. I felt insecure and confused. I was 15 years old and had to look for resources elsewhere to be able to hear,” he said.

“First we tried to charge the batteries in our car, it would take about 16 hours to reach full charge, then I looked for shops nearby with power and asked them if I could charge my batteries. Everyone was always happy to help, which I was grateful for, but it made me realize that there are thousands of other people whose lives depend on electricity or battery-powered medical equipment.”

Now a student at Boca Raton-based Lynn University, where he studies entrepreneurship, Di Paolo is currently working to pass a bill in Florida that would mandate the installation of solar panels for the exclusive use of charging medical equipment during power outages.

And he was recently awarded the first Cochlear Americas Vocational Scholarship for academic excellence, athletic achievement and medical device advocacy.

“I was 2 years old when I received my cochlear implant. For the first time I could hear dogs barking, birds chirping and the sound of my mother’s voice. Because I was implanted at an early age, I fit in very easily with my other hearing classmates.

“Growing up with hearing loss, I learned how to speak up for myself academically and athletically—I played basketball, tennis, and volleyball and ran cross country. My cochlear implant also allowed me to hear my teachers with ease and put me ready for success to finally graduate summa cum laude.”

He said when Hurricane Irma hit Miami, his family, like thousands of others, lost power for weeks.

“While we had emergency supplies, we didn’t consider how we would charge my cochlear implant. My neighbor (who is a type-2 insulin-dependent diabetic) had installed a generator on his balcony to power a small refrigerator to store his insulin and wanted me use it to charge my implant.

“The day after the hurricane, I went to his apartment to check on him when we both received bad news. Condominiums are not allowed to use gas generators due to fire hazard and this is where my journey began.

“I realized that what happened to me also affected others during and after the hurricane. Power mobility devices, ventilators, oxygen concentrators, feeding equipment, chair lifts, communication equipment, dialysis machines – the list of medical equipment that requires power goes on and on.

“We had to shelter in place. We didn’t have any nearby family or friends to turn to, nor did we have the financial resources to evacuate. I couldn’t help but think about those in need their medical equipment but which was left without power,” he said.

“I am very grateful for this scholarship that will help me pursue my passions. Life can be unforgiving at times, but maintaining a positive and optimistic attitude has made my journey successful.”

86. Royal Poinciana Fiesta

Presented annually by the Tropical Flowering Tree Society, this festival celebrates the glorious trees all around us that bloom at this time of year.

Several events are planned, starting with a party at 6pm on June 4th at the Garden House of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. At At 7:30 p.m., the 2023 Royal Poinciana Fiesta Queen and Court scholarship recipients, the Larry Schokman Book Award recipient, and the Poinciana Ambassador Award recipient will be presented.

The festivities continue 7-11. June with painting party, walking tour, story talks, bicycle and trolley rides and planting of two new trees. More at www.tfts.org and www.royalp.org Some events are free.

Honorees at The Children’s Trust’s annual Champions for Children awards ceremony are Fiorella Altare Christie of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe’s Thrive of 5 Childcare Scholarships Initiative, Abigail Peskin of the University of Miami’s PCIT Program, Lauren Page, Evelio C. Torres of Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Regina Davis, Annie Neasman of Jessie Trice Community Health System School Health Services and Lori-Ann Cox of Breakthrough Miami.

Children’s Trust debuts leadership awards

The first ever Excellence in Youth Leadership awards were presented by The Children’s Trust at the annual Champions for Children awards ceremony on 27 April. The event has celebrated individuals and programs for 17 years for “outstanding contributions to improving the lives of children and families in our community.”

Congratulations to Lauren Page, an 11th grade student at Ransom Everglades School, who is the first recipient of the Excellence in Youth Leadership Award; Evelio C. Torres, president and CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe, who was presented to David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award for Lifetime Achievement and Dedication to Children; Abigail Peskin of the University of Miami Parent-Child Interaction Therapy program, who received the Excellence in Direct Service to Children and Families award; and Regina Davis, a longtime activist on parental involvement and youth violence, who was honored with the Excellence in Advocacy Award.

Also honored were Breakthrough Miami’s Summer Institute, Early Learning Coalition’s Thrive by 5 Child Care Scholarship Initiative and Jessie Trice Community Health System School Health Services. More at www.thechildrenstrust.org

The Children’s Trust is the largest funder of summer camps in our community with 276 sites. Each is required to provide literacy instruction in addition to physical fitness as well as other enriching activities.

The Trust and M-DCPS are teaming up for “Summer 305” to bring M-DCPS teachers to camps to teach reading and math to combat summer learning loss. Parents can find a program near them HERE.

Write to [email protected] with news for this column.

During a power outage, he could not charge a medical device. He’s advocating for a bill to help change that for others

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