New York City schoolteacher Geovanni Alvarado was getting ready for his daughter’s dance competition on Nov. 27, 2015. While taking a shower in his Island Park home, he felt a seizure coming on. As an epileptic for most of his life, he knew what to do. He turned off the water, got down on the tub’s floor and braced himself. But something went wrong.
His wife, Dawne, heard the sounds of a seizure, and rushed in to check on him. The 45-year-old’s chin had pinched into his chest, cutting off the flow of air. By the time the EMTs arrived, he was unconscious. Alvarado, the father of a 9-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, had been deprived of oxygen for too long.
For weeks he lay unresponsive in the hospital. After a month, he started breathing on his own again. Sensing there might be hope, Dawne reached out to the International Brain Research Foundation, a nonprofit research organization that specializes in catastrophic brain injuries.
While offering no guarantees, doctors at the IBRF told her that recovery was possible. They transferred Geovanni to a local rehabilitation facility, where they are now trying to bring his brain back to life — one synapse at a time.
After a year of cutting-edge treatment, he is showing progress. The doctors believe he is aware of his surroundings, Dawne said, and they hope he will speak in the next few months. “We’re on the road to recovery,” she said. “It just takes a long time.”
But her family’s insurance will not cover the treatment. According to their policy’s guidelines, there is no measurable recovery metric it accepts for such severe brain damage. “You think you’re covered, and then you’re not,” Dawne said with dismay.
The expenses have been exorbitant: For the first year of treatment, she has paid thousands of dollars a month, and she knows the cost will continue to be high. “We’ll never be normal again in terms of finances,” she acknowledged.
In response to the situation, acquaintances Joseph Mosey and Tracey Gottlieb will hold a fundraiser on April 22 for the family. “She has so much on her plate,” Mosey said of Dawne. “She’s an intelligent person, and she’s got a lot going for her.”
Mosey and Gottlieb, who are married, know the Alvarados through their 9-year-old daughters. Gottlieb said she had met Geovanni at productions of the Island Park Theatre Group, where the two girls performed. She noted that he volunteered to construct sets. It was shortly after their production of “The Wizard of Oz” that Geovanni had his accident.
“I’m eternally grateful for the organizers and to the Island Park and surrounding communities,” Dawne said of the effort. “They are some amazing people.”
Despite the help, Geovanni’s condition weighs on her. “Right now we’re in limbo,” she said. “There’s no end in sight, which is the worst part.”
Still, she is committed to seeing where her husband’s treatment takes him. “The doctors are amazing,” she said. “We’re pushing the limits...but we don’t know. Medically, we don’t understand the brain well enough, but each day is better than the one before it.
“I live day by day,” she added. “It’s very hard to live day by day with a 9-year-old and a 4-year-old, but I’m the eternal optimist. I just keep my feet on the ground and move forward. The other option is to stop and bury my head in the sand, but that’s not an option.”
Dawne, like many Island Park residents, must also contend with raising her house by September to maintain her eligibility for New York Rising assistance. She worries what kind of impact the process will have on her children, and noted that as a “single mom” — a status she said she is still getting used to — it’s a doubly difficult challenge.
Despite the myriad challenges, Dawne is undaunted. “We can’t just stop,” she said. “We chose this road, and this is where we are.”
Others cheer them on. “If there’s a chance he’s able to be there and support his children …” said Mosey, “it’s a potential miracle in the making.”