Love can transcend borders and defy expectations. Just ask Joe Ferraro, whose motivation to help his niece has crossed state lines and galvanized a community of volunteers.
The coach’s mission: to give hope to his niece Eden Nelson, daughter of wife Marcia’s brother. The 11-year-old lives with a condition called myasthenia gravis.
What is ‘MG’?
Also known as “MG” — myasthenia gravis a neurological autoimmune disorder marked by a breakdown in the normal communication between nerves and muscles. The culprit: a defect in the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. There is currently no cure.
The prevalence of MG in the United States affects around 20 out of 100,000 people, reports the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation’s website (myasthenia.org), which also states that the disorder is “probably under-diagnosed and the prevalence may be higher.”
According to the foundation, the disorder occurs in all races, both genders, and at any age. (Although a few other sources say it occurs more frequently in women and the elderly.) Also, MG is most likely not inherited nor is it contagious.
Each year, Ferraro, who lives in Riverview, coordinates Team Eden to help the MG Foundation. The busy coach — who retired from the insurance business and now chooses to lead Tampa Catholic’s women’s lacrosse team to victory instead of kicking back or cruising the Caribbean — didn’t hesitate to figure out how he could help his niece after learning about her diagnosis.
Eden, who lives in the Illinois, was only 7 when doctors diagnosed her with MG. Ferraro says she is a fighter but a little timid and doesn’t like to talk about her illness.
Speaking on Eden’s behalf, Ferraro explains that she showed hallmark symptoms such as drooping eyelids, weakness in limbs, balance problems and numbness. (Other difficulties include swallowing and standing up without assistance.)
“The doctors thought it was a form of palsy at first,” Ferraro said. “ Her parents didn’t know what to do. Eden was a shy young woman already, and she was being teased at school.”
A lacrosse cavalry to the rescue
Four years ago the Tampa Catholic High School women lacrosse team began to help Ferraro and his niece by both coordinating and hoofing-it for Team Eden in the annual MG Walk.
The 2019 MG Walk in Largo this weekend will be the team’s fourth year in a row.
“They have taken to it tremendously with no pushback,” Ferraro says of the athletes who must balance rigorous academic demands, team practice, games and other charitable obligations.
Throughout the year, Ferraro and the lacrosse players help homeless citizens and other people in need across the greater Tampa Bay area. Every year they host a toy drive for pediatric patients at Tampa General Hospital in addition to working at food pantries, children’s homes and other organizations.
On Feb. 23, they will walk for Team Eden for the MG Walk in Eagle Lake Park in Largo. Friends, family and other members of the community will be walking in honor of Eden, whose autoimmune disorder affects how her nerves communicate with her muscles.
Though volunteering is mandatory at Tampa Catholic — whose motto is “Veritas et Caritas” (truth and charity) — the lacrosse players have “embraced this philosophy.” .
Their coach said that he felt touched by how they helped Eden come out of her shell.
“Last year and Eden and her father flew to Florida to participate,” Ferraro said, adding that he had let them know how shy she was, something they understood immediately and intuitively.
“The players interacted with her and treated her like a little sister. They didn’t ask her questions or put her on the spot. They exhibited a maturity that surprised me but shouldn’t have.”
The 2019 Tampa Bay MG Walk will take place Saturday, Feb. 23, from 9 a.m. to noon, at Eagle Lake Park, 1800 Keene Road, Largo. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/MGWalk2019TampaCatholic.