Thursday, August 28, 2014

• Meet Johnny Salas and Armani Too

Today at 11:30am I meandered over to Stadium Pizza, the weekly home of the Wildomar Rotary Club. On today's agenda was the presentation of a $600 check to Johnny Salas. A longtime Wildomar resident that has a condition known as Arthrogryposis [as I learned during our conversation]. The money was to help defray the outstanding balance on his new Service Dog, Armani.
Johnny and Armani

WR: How long have you been in Wildomar?
JS: We've been in this area for awhile, but actual Wildomar... I've been here since I was in 6th grade.

WR: What is your ailment?
JS: Arthrogryposis. It mainly affects the joints, hips, knees, ankles. I've had a total of six corrective surgeries. I wear orthopedic braces, called KAFOs. They come all the way up to here (pointing to his hip area). I've been wearing these since I was about one.
These images of KAFO braces came up during an image search.

WR: How does arthrogryposis affect your daily life?
JS: Because this is all I know, it's always hard to say... I've always been one to try not to let it hold me back at all.

WR: I had originally thought of that question before knowing if your condition came about in your teens, or if it were from birth.
JS: Right, I totally understand. Little things that average people [don't give a second thought to] like getting like getting up from the floor. Getting up is more difficult. Walking upstairs or uphills is really hard because of the limited rotation in my hips.

WR: Who's idea was it to get a service dog?
JS: My girlfriend is the one to suggest it. I've never been one to want to admit that I needed help. We were talking for awhile and she said, "I think it would be good for you." At first I was almost opposed to it, thinking 'I don't need it'... I'm fine. 

But if I was out with my girlfriend, she literally would have to have her hand on my back, pushing me up hills, or pulling me up stairs. 

Then it clicked.

Maybe this is something we should look into... this might be able to actually help me.

WR: How old is Armani and how long have you had him?
JS: He's 4 years old and I've had him about two and a half months.

WR: What was the cost for the dog?
JS:  Total cost, altogether, was close to $10,000. They can be as high as $30,000 depending on the place... it was a lot. We did a lot of fundraising. My girlfriend and I were literally in tears a couple of times because of how generous people are and how willing everybody was to help. It was definitely very humbling to have to ask people for money.

I play music at my church and a friend of mine had asked me to play at his church and at the end of the service they'd ask for a donation for me. So I went, and there were probably about thirty students in their twenties, all together they raised just under $1500.

He didn't like getting into specifics about how much he still owed for the dog, you can see he had a similar shyness about the question in the video too. I totally understand that. 

I'm not one to speak much about money either. Not my money, not your money, not how much I paid for things nor how much you paid for things. 

However, this is a blog about his service dog, and the costs associated with it, and his fundraising efforts... so it's one of those times for me to get out of my comfort zone. After today's check, he still owes about $2900.

WR: Since you mentioned that you play music, what instrument do you play?
JS:  I play acoustic guitar and do lead vocals.

WR: How long have you been doing that?
JS:  For about twelve years.

WR: How did the Wildomar Rotary Club hear about your situation?
JS:  I am close friends with Sarah Zamora, who is the mayor's [Marsha Swanson's] granddaughter, she saw my post on FaceBook and said, "My grandma's part of the Rotary, I think we can help you out." 

A group shot of those helping raise funds for Johnny and Armani at Marna O'Brien park. Sorry, but other
than Johnny, Armani, Marsha Swanson and Bridgette Moore I don't know the names of the other helpers.

WR: Tell me about how you've bonded with Armani?
JS:  It was almost like I was intimidated at first, because this is my first... I've had a dog before, but it was a Pomeranian. He was the first big dog, but it didn't take long to realize he was just a lover. He's just such a cuddler. We do really good, once in awhile he tries to jump in the bed... he's too cute to tell him to get down sometimes.

WR: If people would like to help you with the balance of what you owe, how do they do so?
JS:  There is a website called YouCaring or my FaceBook Page.

Note: when I went to the YouCaring site, it mentions that the fund raiser closed well short of the goal. Also his FaceBook page is set to private (who can blame him in today's world). So if you'd like to help out, it appears you're going to have to send a private message at YouCaring or FaceBook first.

What a pleasure it was to meet such a cheerful and thoughtful person as Johnny Salas, and his oversized teddy bear Armani too. It's always inspiring to see people that are pushing past the obstacles that would crush many of the rest of us.

Kudos to the Rotary Club for helping out one of our locals. Especially to those that really put in the time. I'd name names, but you didn't do it for that purpose. You know who you are and your efforts are appreciated.


Above is the video of Johnny Salas being presented with a check in the amount of $600. It brought his outstanding balance down from $3500 to $2900.

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Clicking is such a sweet sound.
I will leave you with a short poem from Lord Byron

Much that I sought, I could not find;
Much that I found, I could not keep;
Much that I kept, I could not free;
Much that I freed, returned to me.

That basically is telling you to sign up for Wildomar Rap updates before arthritis sets in.

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