I actually planned and started today’s post to be three short stories about ‘good people doing good things’ for disabled people. But once I got to the story of Michael and Camille Geraldi, I realized that I did not want to consign their story to a short, 200-300 word snippet, as theirs is a story deserving of so much more. So, please allow me to introduce you to two beautiful people …
Michael Geraldi was a pediatrician and his wife Camille a nurse. What, you ask, is so special about the Geraldis? During the course of their 40-year marriage, these two wonderful people adopted 88 children with special needs. It started in 1973 when Michael would often find Camille, late at night and well past the end of her shift, in the nursery, rocking the special babies, the ones that families and medical science had already given up on. Camille had already adopted three of these infants, and when Michael proposed to her, she replied that she wanted to dedicate her life to providing a home for these special children. Michael replied, “I want to follow your dream.”
The Geraldi family includes kids with intellectual disabilities, spina bifida and Down syndrome. Some have autism or extreme facial deformities. “One child was born with only a brain stem,” Camille said. “We took care of him. He lived to be 25 years old and never had a bedsore.”
The couple established the Possible Dream Foundation in 1986, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Through the years, 32 of the children they adopted have died. “The children I took in were expected to die,” Camille, now 68, told CNN. “But so many of them have lived.”
To the extent possible, the Geraldis created a normal, loving home environment for the children, complete with assigned chores. More than 40 children, many of whom are now adults, consider the Geraldis their parents, with countless others staying for extended periods of respite care, hospice, therapeutic rehabilitation and sometimes specialty day care. The oldest, Darlene, is now 32. She lives in a Florida group home. The youngest, Isabella, is 8. Born to a cocaine addict, the girl was deaf and blind as an infant. Today, she is performing a year above her grade level in school.
In addition to the difficulties of caring for so many special-needs children, they have suffered other difficulties as well. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew flattened their home. The kids were okay, but the family had to relocate to some cabins Mike, co-owned along with several other doctors in Murphy, North Carolina. Then in 2011, while the family was away on a camping trip, lightning struck their homestead. The fire destroyed everything: the house, vehicles, their sense of security. It was after the fire that they relocated from Florida to Ellijay, Georgia.
In 1996, Camille wrote and published a book, Camille’s Children: 31 Miracles and Counting, about their experiences to that point, and providing information about resources for parents of children with disabilities.
The Geraldis have been featured on CNN, in People Magazine, Larry King Live, USA Today, Ladies Home Journal and The Miami Herald. In addition, they have been featured not once, but twice on 60 Minutes. Here is a clip of the most recent, in 2014
A 1999 article in The Ambassadors featuring the Geraldis says “the family expenditure is at the astronomical figure of $264,000 annually. The family expenditures in a single month is more than $22,000 including $1,800 electricity and $1,200 for diapers. The Geraldis consume 18 gallons of milk, and 12 large pizzas weekely. Each frozen food order includes 12 packages of brocolli, 36 beef patties, 20 bags of meatballs, and 35 package [sic] of hotdogs!!” I won’t even ask how many rolls of toilet tissue they need in a week!!!
In the same article is a quote by Camille Geraldi that warms my heart:
“I always keep a new baby with me every moment for the first six months to make sure we bond. Having a second child does not divide and diminish a mother’s love, the way a mathematician divides and reduces his numbers. Love is not a pound of meat that can be weighed or a truckload of bricks that can be counted. Love is not finite and measurable or bound by logical rule. Love is illogical and irrational. It is bottomless. There is plenty to go around whether there are two children or thirty-one.”
Sadly, Michael Geraldi died of cancer on 08 March 2016. Until shortly before his death, Michael continued to practice medicine full time, providing pro bono medical services for any mentally, physically or developmentally challenged child who needed it. The couple had never taken a real vacation, and were planning to do some traveling in 2015 when Michael was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos.
These two people are the epitome of humanity, of compassion, of caring for their fellow humans. Please take a moment to visit the Possible Dream Foundation website where you can learn more about Michael and Camille, as well as see pictures and bios of some of the children they adopted. These two people truly lived their lives for others. Two thumbs up to these courageous and caring people!
When I first started this weekly feature, Good People Doing Good Things, I despaired that it would be difficult to find the kind of people I was looking for every week. I did not just want to feature rich people who gave away a portion of their wealth as a tax write-off annually, nor did I want to feature people whose good works might have underlying motives. I wanted people who did good things, whether large or small, simply out of the goodness of their heart, out of a sense of humanity. I need not have worried about finding these people … every week I find more than I have the time and space to write about, and that, my friends, gives me hope that despite it all, the human race will persevere in the face of adversity. Until next week …