Macy’s Makes a Special Wish Come True at Thanksgiving for a Special Young Person

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Katie Falwell, CEO, hugs Sam LaManna, 14. She and other Keystone therapists have worked with Sam since he was six years old.

Sam LaManna is 14 years old and a student at Mainspring Academy a school for students with special needs. When he celebrated his birthday this past January, he had just one wish – to get an autograph from Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Executive Producer, Amy Kule. Sam first saw Amy cut the ribbon at the parade a few years ago and she has been his hero ever since!

Sam’s mother had placenta previa, which caused birth trauma and low heart rate and oxygen levels for Sam. Five days after his birth, the doctors discovered that he had two intraventricular brain hemorrhages. Sam survived but now lives with hydrocephalus, the buildup of fluid in the cavities deep within the brain. The excess fluid increases the size of the cavities and puts pressure on the brain, which damages brain tissues and causes a large spectrum of impairments in brain function.

Macy’s has invited Sam and His Family to be Special Guests at the 90th Anniversary of its Thanksgiving Parade

Last year, with the help of his teacher, Sam made a video message asking Amy for her autograph. The video went viral, eventually Amy saw the video, and she was honored to make his wish come true. Not only did Amy send Sam an autograph, she made a video herself inviting his family, Sam and his former teacher to be her special guests at the 90th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! Amy and Al Roker, weather anchor on NBC’s Today and Sam’s other favorite person, have a special Thanksgiving Day planned for Sam.

Sam still attends Mainspring Academy, a private, nonprofit school located in Jacksonville’s Southside. The school opened in 2010 to serve children with a broad range of special needs from elementary through high school.

Sam also receives a number of therapies provided by Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics, which offers integrated healthcare for developmental, behavioral, emotional and learning issues. Using a collaborative team approach, more than 120 therapists are available to help children.

Sam’s lead therapist is Angela Chionchio. Keystone has worked with Sam since he was six years old. When his mother first brought Sam to Keystone in 2008, she described him as happy and affectionate, noting that he loved to read, learned quickly and had excellent memory. Yet, she was concerned that he was stubborn, easily distracted and developmentally delayed. He didn’t sit up until he was 13 months old and didn’t walk until he was 27 months old. Socially, Sam struggled to make friends and seemed disinterested and withdrawn around others.

According to Sam’s lead therapist, Angela Chionchio. “Sam has trouble with ‘first time listening,’ meaning he can be noncompliant when he impulsively sees an object that he wants play with but should not be available at the moment. In the classroom, his teacher and I prompt him to raise his hand to ask permission to do these things and offer him alternatives.”

Sam also has a problem with schedule change. “We help by preparing him for upcoming changes and praising him when he accepts change appropriately,” Angela says.

“Sam is doing great this year,” she says. His new classmates offer him opportunities to grow socially and behaviorally.

“When I asked Sam why he loved the parade so much, he said that it was because he loves when the producer cuts the ribbon at the start of the parade,” she laughs. “He said he also is very excited to see Santa Claus at the grand finale  and meet the host of the Today Show.”

“Sam is a wonderfully unique little guy,” his mom says. “I knew great things were inside him, but I needed Keystone’s help for Sam to bring out all that he has to offer the world.”

Sam’s trip to New York City is made even more special by the fact that his parents and he tried to visit the city last year, but had to cancel at the last minute because Sam needed emergency surgery. The IV shunt that was implanted in Sam’s brain unexpectedly quit working, so Sam had to endure hours of major surgery.

An implanted shunt diverts cerebrospinal fluid from the chambers within the brain to another body region where it will be absorbed. This creates an alternative route for removal of cerebrospinal fluid which is constantly produced within the brain and usually restores physiological balance.

Sam has blossomed under the therapy he receives at Keystone and in his classes at Mainspring Academy. All of us at Keystone and Mainspring are so excited for Sam that he has been able to achieve and even exceed his dream of getting autographs from Amy Kule and Al Roker.

“Sam is a wonderfully unique little guy,” his mom says. “I knew great things were inside him, but I needed Keystone’s help for Sam to bring out all that he has to offer the world.”

Sam’s trip to New York City is made even more special by the fact that his parents and he tried to visit the city last year, but had to cancel at the last minute because Sam needed emergency surgery. The IV shunt that was implanted in Sam’s brain unexpectedly quit working, so Sam had to endure hours of major surgery.

An implanted shunt diverts cerebrospinal fluid from the chambers within the brain to another body region where it will be absorbed. This creates an alternative route for removal of cerebrospinal fluid which is constantly produced within the brain and usually restores physiological balance.

Sam has blossomed under the therapy he receives at Keystone and in his classes at Mainspring Academy. All of us at Keystone and Mainspring are so excited for Sam that he has been able to achieve and even exceed his dream of getting autographs from Amy Kule and Al Roker.

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