When Alex was born three months premature with a grade-four brain bleed, the doctors confirmed at the time that the little chap only had a birth weight of 1 pound, 4 ounces. Alex’s parents knew it was touch and go for their son and had no idea when he was born if he would even survive the night.
The first miracle was that Alex Stamboulidis survived at all. The second miracle happened more recently when Alex met a “Sensitive” Santa at ASD Fitness in Orange, Connecticut. It may not have been a big deal for anyone else, but for Alex this day was life-changing…
The pregnancy had been a complex one, fraught with issues on a seemingly weekly basis. Alex’s parents knew the birth itself would be challenging, and they were worried that the baby wouldn’t even survive. When Alex was born, his parents were filled with mixed emotions of joy and jubilation but also with concern for the future.
Due to a traumatic birth and other factors, Alex was born very much on the autism spectrum and suffered from a bunch of developmental, physical and motor planning skill issues. Being born three months early and with a serious brain bleed is enough to have any parent worried and rightfully so.
The special Santa provided by the ASD Fitness club is a special event for autistic children. The whole environment is set up specifically for autistic kids and those with sensitivity issues. The h0-ho-ho’s are done quietly and kept to a minimum while the lighting is low and the atmosphere calm and inviting. Alex was thrilled to be meeting Santa and was fully aware of the great honor.
Alex immediately felt comfortable with the special Santa and sat on his knee taking in the whole Christmas experience. When Santa asked Alex what he wanted for Christmas, he was shocked that the little boy asked for a grand piano. It was at that point that the Santa warned Alex that he couldn’t bring everything that is written on the “nice list.”
The Special Santa sessions arranged at the ASD Fitness facility have brought much joy and comfort to kids with issues. When 8-year-old Rui Carvalho visited the same Santa, she was thrilled by the whole experience. Suffering from autism and sensory issues, visiting with Santa was a milestone for little Rui. “I can’t get this at a mall,” her mother said. “It’s fantastic,” she added, according to a New Haven Register report.
The initiative was set up to help autistic children aged 5 through 21. The idea was for these kids with issues to meet a Santa in a quiet, safe space, without any unexpected noises or troubling distractions. This approach meant that kids who would otherwise be unable to visit Santa can do so in an ideal, quiet environment.
Because many of the kids who visit this special Santa are nonverbal, he was sure to speak softly to them, including to Alex, telling them, “Thank you so much for being such a good” boy or girl and “Santa has a present for you.”
Dr. Carol Weitzman, director of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Yale University, was also in attendance at the special event. She explained, “The parents are gratified to see the kids enjoying tradition,” she said. But there was something even more special in store for Alex that Christmas.
Residents of Orange called Barbara and Malcolm Rashba from Stratford, have long and strong ties with the community in the New Haven area. As soon as they read about Alex’s request for a grand piano in an article about the event, they came forward to offer a very special donation for a very special boy.
It just so happened that the Rashbas had a mint condition Baldwin-Howard baby grand that is more than 75 years old in their possession. The piano was bought for Barbara when she was a child, and she had always looked after it with great care and attention to detail.
While the piano was worth around $7,000, all the kind couple requested was that the donation is done in the memory of their son Gary Rashba who died two years ago from cancer at the age of 47. They told reporters that Gary was very “Musically inclined,” and that he played the piano regularly for his mother and father. “If we can make a child happy, we’re happy to do that,” Barbara said.
Malcolm Rashba also chimed in about the donation of the piano to Alex. “I’m just delighted that someone who needs it can use it,” he said. The couple has been lauded by people in the community for their kindness and generosity which has not gone unnoticed by the people that matter the most.
The special Santa looked remarkably like Mike Storz, president of the award-winning Chapel Haven Schleifer Center, a school for those with autism and other special needs. the Rashbas called him after reading the report about the Santa event to see how they get the piano delivered to Alex.
The only problem was how they would raise around $500 to have the 650-pound piano moved from Stratford to North Haven. Mike called in Walter Petro, owner of Father & Son Moving & Storage in Wallingford, who immediately dispatched a team to ensure the piano was moved to Alex’s house in time for Christmas.
Petro even showed up himself to help move the piano to Alex, telling reporters that he did so as it was the right thing to do. “I said, ‘Let’s just do it because it’s the right thing to do,'” Petro said. “The look on Alex’s face is going to be priceless.” Mike even put his Santa outfit back on so he could personally escort Alex to his new piano.
Since the day he was born. Alex has always had a love and passion for all things musical. Soon after he expressed an interest in piano Alex’s father bought him a keyboard. He hasn’t had any lessons officially but his family did confirm that he memorized Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” from two short YouTube sessions.
Alex’s mother said she hopes that the new gift will pave the way for a bright future for Alex. “I feel like it’s going to lead to something bigger down the road. That this will lead to a career,” she said. At the same time, Dedra Leapley, who co-founded the ASD Fitness facility said, “The stars aligned for this to happen.”
Everyone in the community seemed to want a piece of the action this Christmas. Another kind person to jump on board was Robert Alech of Robert Alech Piano Service. He donated his piano tuning skills for free so that Alex can have the best piano possible to pursue his dreams. “We all need to do things like that to make the world a better place,” Alech said.
“It’s unbelievable. I always called Alexander a miracle, but this is a Christmas miracle,” said his mom, Tori-Anne Dauria. “He’s been telling everyone this is all he wanted for Christmas was a grand piano and everyone tried to tell him it’s not possible, but he’d say, ‘Why not, I’m on the good list.'”
Storz said he was amazed that so many amazing people joined forces just a few days before Christmas to bring joy to a young autistic boy. According to Storz, the whole thing was a “Christmas miracle,” and Alex and his folks tend to agree with that sentiment. “It was meant to happen,” Storz said.