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During a power outage, he couldn’t 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 two years old.

Everything changed during that 2017 storm 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 was unable to hear once again.

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

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

“Without power, my ability to hear was gone until power was restored to my neighborhood. I felt unsafe 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 would look for nearby stores with electricity and ask them if I could charge my batteries. Everyone was always happy to help, which I was grateful for, but it made me realize there are thousands of other people whose lives depend on power or battery-powered medical devices.”

Now a student at Boca Raton-based Lynn University where he is studying entrepreneurship, Di Paolo is currently working to pass a bill in Florida that will mandate solar panel installation for the exclusive use to charge medical devices during power outages.

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

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

“Growing up with hearing loss taught me how to advocate 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 set me up for success to eventually 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 did not consider how we would charge my cochlear implant. My next-door 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 was going to let 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. Condos are not permitted to use gas generators due to fire hazards, 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 devices, dialysis machines – the list of medical devices that require 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 stop thinking about those who needed their medical devices but were left without power,” he said.

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

86th Royal Poinciana Fiesta

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

Numerous events are scheduled that start with a party at 6 p.m., June 4 in the Garden House of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. 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.

Festivities continue June 7-11 with a painting party, walking tour, history talks, bike and trolley tours, and the planting of two new trees. More at www.tfts.org and www.royalp.org Some events are free.

Honorees at The Children’s Trust annual Champions for Children award ceremony are Fiorella Altare Christie of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe’s Thrive by 5 Childcare Scholarships Initiative, Abigail Peskin of University of Miami’s PCIT Program, Lauren Page, Evelio C. Torres of the 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 leader awards

The first-ever Excellence in Youth Leadership awards were presented by The Children’s Trust at the annual Champions for Children award ceremony on April 27. The event has celebrated individuals and programs for 17 years for “outstanding contributions toward 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 inaugural recipient of the Excellence in Youth Leadership Award; Evelio C. Torres, President & CEO of Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe who was presented with the David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award for Lifetime Achievement and Dedication to Children; Abigail Peskin from 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 long-time parental involvement and youth violence activist 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 locations. 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 on “Summer 305” to bring M-DCPS teachers into camps to teach reading and math to combat summer learning loss. Parents can find a program near them HERE.

Write to ChristinaMMayo@gmail.com with news for this column.