It was late 2011.
John Morabito and his wife Laura were anticipating welcoming a new life and a new future in Howard Beach. It was just 10 years after the New York City firefighter had nearly lost his own at the World Trade Center.
Morabito was working at Ladder 10, Engine 10 in Lower Manhattan. He was the only one from his unit at the towers that day who got out alive. He would later face tragedy again when he responded to the Deutsche Bank building fire near Ground Zero in 2007 that killed two of his colleagues.
A decade after 9/11, he would face another life-altering crisis.
After a seemingly normal pregnancy, the birth of John and Laura’s first son, Rocco, on Dec. 30, 2011 was anything but.
After being delivered by C-section, Rocco lost oxygen and suffered from hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy — his brain was starved of oxygen, causing massive damage. The situation was not caught for three hours and by the time doctors could respond, the damage to his brain was “catastrophic.” The Morabitos were told their son may not survive his first night.
But Rocco did.
He was later diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease. Rocco lived in rehab for the first six months of his life. He’s legally blind, will never walk, talk, smile or cry. He is fed through a feeding tube and breathes with a tracheostomy.
“Taking care of him is extremely difficult,” his father said.
Now, John Morabito, who helped save the lives of countless people on Sept. 11, 2001, is regularly saving his own son’s life.
“There have been several occasions where my wife and myself have had to revive him,” he said.
As if all that was not enough, a few months after Rocco came home to the family’s new house in Howard Beach, Hurricane Sandy hit and flooded their home, forcing them to move into a one-bedroom apartment for months.
“It was extremely hard,” Rocco’s mother said. “He needs 24-hour care.”
Then compounding Rocco’s health issues, he developed scoliosis and kyphosis, making it impossible for him to sit up straight.
“His spine has almost completely folded over on himself,” Laura Morabito said. “It makes it very difficult for him to breathe.”
The couple, who have since welcomed into the family a second son, Vince, needs to buy a special handicapped van for Rocco to go to his doctor’s appointments and to a dedicated school he goes to in Bayside.
“It’s hard to get Rocco’s wheelchair into the van we have now,” John Morabito said, explaining that transporting his son into and out of a normal van can be difficult, even painful for Rocco.
A handicapped-accessible van will also allow Rocco’s parents to lock his wheelchair in place and keep his medical equipment close to the wheelchair.
The van costs $85,000. They are holding a fundraiser on Aug. 21 to help raise the $30,000 for a down payment on the van.
The fundraiser event will be held from 7 to 11:30 p.m. at Russo’s On The Bay at 162-45 Cross Bay Blvd. in Howard Beach. There will be prizes, raffles, DJ, dancing as well as dinner.
Tickets are $125 and can be purchased in advance through the family’s webpage at rallyforrocco.wordpress.com, and more information about Rocco can be found there or on a Facebook page created for him called Rally for Rocco.