After an accident he suffered seven years ago left him a quadriplegic, Matthew Valente, a graduate of Michael J. Petrides HS, might have settled for a restricted life in a wheelchair surrounded by sympathetic friends and family. Instead, with the help of his alma mater, he’s fighting back.
Working with his former physics teacher at the Staten Island school, Chapter Leader Carlos Rodriguez, Valente has established WALK 4, a foundation to raise funds to help find a cure for the 250,000 other American quadriplegics who have suffered spinal cord injuries.One of the brainstorming ideas being acted upon by volunteers in the Petrides branch of WALK 4 is to heighten awareness of spinal cord injuries by establishing an online gallery of Walk and Roll canvases that record wheelchair tracks and footprints. Political and community leaders added their footprints to canvases at a Walk and Roll event on the school’s campus on May 1.
Valente was injured while working at his summer job at a golf course in 2007. The golf cart he was driving flipped over, pinning him and fusing two vertebrae just weeks before he was to begin college.
When he was finally acclimated to his injury, Valente said, “I wanted to do something but I couldn’t find an outlet to express myself.” Rodriguez assured him they would figure it out and WALK 4 was born.
Now Valente, recently featured on NY1 as New Yorker of the Week, is determined to become an inspiration for “people looking for hope.”
WALK 4 (walk4.net) has already raised $20,000 from the sale of T-shirts and donations. All proceeds go to the Spinal Cord Injury Project at Rutgers University, where a team of stem cell researchers are searching for a cure.
The whole Petrides community has been there for Valente and his family from the beginning. Valente’s dad, Jim, a former assistant principal at the high school who is now retired, said teachers contributed 100 days from their sick banks to get him through the early days of his son’s rehabilitation, allowing him time to do the extensive renovation of the family home to accommodate his son’s wheelchair and other needs.
“It would have been tough to survive without that,” he said.Although Valente has to rely on others, his mother, Cynthia, a retired teacher, said that her son remains “stubbornly independent.” He is as “involved as involved can be,” she said, and has figured out a way to use his computer despite lacking finger dexterity.
Valente shares his challenges and accomplishments in a series of upbeat YouTube videos he created to help others understand what it means to live life as a quadriplegic.
Petrides teacher Jennifer Brancaccio said that Valente appreciates how caring the community has been. “He’s a cool and positive guy who really enjoys what he’s doing,” she said.