Alphonse G. Lage, an active Merrick community and Chamber of Commerce member for more than 50 years, died in May at 87. As a board member of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County, Lage advocated for disease awareness and helped those suffering from it.
Lage got involved in the organization when his daughter, Michelle, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She was a student at CP Nassau’s Learning Center, and remains with the group today, maintaining the school’s library. Through the association, Michelle met her husband, Richard Mondello, who also has cerebral palsy.
“He began at CP Nassau with Michelle becoming a student,” Robert McGuire, the association’s executive director, said of Lage. “He had a generous heart. He not only wanted to make Michelle’s life better, but the lives of others better, too.”
Lage helped run a number of events for the chamber, including the first annual Merrick Fall Festival. In 2012, he was the chamber’s Man of the Year.
In his honor, the chamber donated a Rifton chair to CP Nassau — an essential piece of equipment for teaching students how to stand on their own, said Symong Choi,the association’s director of physical therapy.
The chair offers a dynamic range of physical therapy for patients. In severe cases, Cerebral palsy, which affects motor functions, makes it difficult to walk. Those with the disorder often rely on caretakers to lift them, dress them and help them with other daily activities. The chair helps establish independence, allowing those who have the disease to move on their own.
However, CP Nassau has a limited supply: It owns nine chairs, but more than 35 students practice with them.
“There are so many who can benefit from it,” Choi said while demonstrating the chair’s uses. “If you teach them to walk or to stand, they won’t need as many staff or their family to help. And, in turn, you create new futures for the students.”
The Rifton chair has a variety of functions. If a student wants to rest, it can lean back. It can be raised or lowered and adjusted to make the student comfortable. It can also move forward, teaching students how to stand.
As Choi explained, those with cerebral palsy need to learn and practice basic motor functions. When a physically capable person transitions from sitting to standing, she naturally leans forward to shift her weight. The students at CP Nassau cannot make this movement easily, and the chair helps to teach students how to transition to a stance.
This brings a new level of independence to their lives, Choi said. With some practice, they have the potential to stand, walk and be more self-reliant. The potential for pre-schoolers, if they acquire this skill early in life is limitless, he said.
“It helps create meaningful, purposeful movement,” Choi said.
The chairs typically cost $4,000 to 5,000 each, McGuire said. More chairs could ease the tight finances at CP Nassau — more than 20 injuries a year leads to around $800,000 in worker’s comp, he said. Many of those come from lifting patients. More Rifton chairs would mean more physically independent students.
“There’s a financial side that can’t be ignored, too,” McGuire said. “I can’t understate how difficult it is to lift [students]. The constant movement is stressful and straining.”
The goal at CP Nassau is to eventually become a “no-lift” school.
Throughout the day, the chamber members and friends remembered Lage with smiles and laughs. They described him as a great, fun-loving and kind-hearted man who should never be forgotten.
“If Al were here now,” his wife, Carmela, said at the presentation’s close, “he’d be saying, ‘Let’s have a scotch!’”