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Pinwheels Signify Hope for ALS Cure

From left: Students Gregory Diaz, Abby Ng, and Natalia Wagner next to their pinwheel creation; Assemblymen Steven Englebright and Michael J. Fitzpatrick; Suffolk County Legislator Dwayne Gregory; Hospital CEO Steven L. Strongwater; Rahman Pourmand, Medical Director, Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence; and ALS patients Christopher Pendergast and Bob Margolis (Photo by Kevin Peterman).

Gusts of wind twirled 6,000 pinwheels on the Stony Brook campus during the 2011 Ride for Life Celebration and Remembrance Ceremony on May 14. The pinwheels, representing the lives lost annually to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, seemed to have a vibrant life of their own during the ceremony commemorating those who have lost their lives due to ALS, with the hope that a cure is “blowin’ in the wind.” The Stony Brook event is a cornerstone of the annual ALS Ride for Life, a 12-day trek from Riverhead to Manhattan, which ends May 21.

Leading five ALS patients riding their motorized wheelchairs onto the South P Lot on West Campus to the ceremony was Christopher Pendergast, an 18-year ALS patient, Founder and President, Ride for Life. In December 2010, the ALS Comprehensive Care Center at Stony Brook University Medical Center, the only ALS Association Certified Center on Long Island, was renamed in honor of Pendergast, to the Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence. Annual proceeds from the Ride go to Center to help fund patient care and research.

“I feel exhilarated, and I am happy to see the great turnout and support for the Ride for Life Ceremony at Stony Brook,” said Pendergast upon entering the campus. “We must not forget those we have lost or the hope that a cure for ALS can become a reality.”

“The road to defeating this frightening disease is going to be a long journey,” said Stony Brook University Hospital CEO Steven L. Strongwater, M.D. “Stony Brook University Medical Center will be in this battle against ALS for the long haul, and someday there will be a cure.”

During the Remembrance Ceremony, 90 names of patients lost to ALS were read aloud. Family members then placed a pinwheel in the field in honor of their lost loved one. Families and friends gathered silently, many in tears, as they planted the pinwheels. The readings included patient names from towns all over Long Island, as well as New York State, New Jersey, Connecticut, North Carolina, Arizona, and other states.

Those gathered at the ceremony also took part in an interfaith healing prayer and witnessed a moving rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind” by guitarist/singer Mary Timmons.

Highlighting the ceremony conclusion was the unveiling of a sculpture created by several Stony Brook studio arts students. The sculpture, a group of large, multicolored pinwheels on a stand, offers a bright representation of the hope that a cure for ALS is indeed, blowing in the wind. The sculpture will be installed in the lobby of Stony Brook University Hospital.

A check for $68,000 was also presented by the Ride for Life to the Christopher Pendergast ALS Center of Excellence. 2011 marks the 14th annual Ride for Life, an event that occurs each May during ALS Awareness Month. Since the inception of the ALS Comprehensive Care Center at Stony Brook in 2002, Pendergast and the patient advocacy group has granted nearly $400,000 to the Center.

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