Wish Book donations brighten the lives of more than 800 people

Readers opened their hearts to The Miami Herald’s 2012 Wish Book stories, even trying to donate a kidney to one woman. They gave cars, bikes, home restorations, medical supplies and money.

02/23/2013 4:54 PM

02/23/2013 9:18 PM

Payton Petty, a vivacious 4-year-old boy who lives in Fort Lauderdale with his father, a disabled block mason, and grandmother, was born with the rare condition keratitis, a disorder that scars the corneas. Sometimes he can make out shapes and colors. But his eyes can be so inflamed, he often keeps them closed to ward off the pain that arrives with even the tiniest bit of light.

The Miami Herald told Payton’s story in January as part of The Herald’s 2012 Wish Book campaign. The Pettys received home repairs, including a bedroom makeover and window treatment to deflect light and minimize the pain from WorldCause Foundation, a Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit humanitarian organization. The Foundation arranged a visit to Rooms to Go in Oakland Park, where Payton gravitated to a retro, red-and- white butterfly chair, among other pieces.

Readers kicked in money for an iPad, vision devices and Braille story books. One donor particularly wanted to help because he, too, is blind.

“The generosity of the readers was exceptional, especially in light of economic uncertainties that loomed toward the end of 2012,” said Wish Book coordinator Roberta DiPietro. The December tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were slain in a mass shooting, diverted attention.

And yet Wish Book, managed by Miami Herald Charities, still raised $325,000 and received more than $140,000 in good and services, on par with previous years, DiPietro reported. More than 800 people had some or all of their needs met due to the generosity of Miami Herald readers.

“Many items could not be valued, including a donation of a kidney,” she said.

When Zelanda Larragoity was nominated for Wish Book, which has run in the newspaper for 31 years, readers learned the 46-year-old hadn’t been able to work since 2010 after doctors discovered her kidneys had stopped functioning properly.

So, three readers offered to donate a kidney — to a complete stranger .

Jackson Memorial Hospital, where Larragoity has been on a waiting list since July 2011, screened the candidates. One kidney passed the first test. The potential donor is now undergoing other tests to determine compatibility with Larragoity.

Whatever the outcome, Larragoity was touched. She told The Herald in January that she felt victorious “just knowing that people care like that.”

People do care.

Maria and Fred Foyo opened their hearts to the Wong family of Cutler Bay after they read how the family had adopted seven special needs children. Readers met one of them, Daniel, 19, who was born with cerebral palsy and quadriplegia. He needed a vehicle with a power lift so the Wongs could transport him to his doctors’ appointments.

The Foyos donated their handicap-accessible family van to the Wongs. About two months before Daniel’s story ran in January, the Foyos lost their little boy, Joey, who was 12.

Joey’s ailment stymied the experts who couldn’t quite call it cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis. They were just able to offer a vague term. “Muscular disorder,” neurologists told the Foyos.

“Joey was one of the most special kids alive,” Maria and Fred Foyo shared with Wish Book staff. “He was smart, witty, friendly, and most of all, always happy. At school, he was top of his class and very popular among his peers. Thanks to this van, Joey’s last two years were memorable. We were able to take him everywhere including a long trip to Pennsylvania to watch one of his brothers play football. We know that Joey would want someone else to have the opportunity to have the freedom he had thanks to this van. He loved riding it, and listening to music on the radio. We hope that it brings as much happiness to the Wong family as it did to us and our little boy.”

Joey died in October from unexpected complications.

“We wish to keep Joey’s legacy alive by being of help to others in his same predicament,” the Foyos said. The family wanted people to know of Joey and their gift — to inspire others to grant wishes.

And don’t forget Moises Brutus, 22, who lost his lower legs and left hand in a 2010 motorcycle accident. An anonymous donor gave him a 2013 Suzuki Kizashi so he could attend school at Miami Dade College, where he’s pursuing a degree in chemistry. The vehicle was outfitted with special controls so Brutus can operate the car with his artificial limbs.

Mack Cycle in South Miami donated an expensive training bicycle and heart monitor, among other goods, so that Brutus can follow his dream to compete in the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil.

“The things that stick out are that people are so giving,” said DiPietro.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter .

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