Neighbors help teenager who was struck by lightning
by Jim Hague, Reporter staff writer
Feb 29, 2000 | 635 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ravi Genao was a typical student/athlete until last August. The Hoboken teenager was enjoying life at Hudson Catholic High School as a member of the school's track team and as an accomplished student who was invited to participate in an exchange program with a school in Australia. Genao was a former basketball standout during his days at Our Lady of Grace in Hoboken and was an accomplished karate expert. "He really had it all," said his grammar school basketball coach, Hoboken firefighter John Cunning, last week. "He was intelligent. He was a good athlete. He really had it all." Ravi's father, Hector, said that he used to look forward to coming home, picking up the basketball and heading to the courts to play with his son. "He would wait for me with the basketball in his hands," Hector Genao said. "He's my only boy." However, things tragically took a turn for the worse last August, in what was a joyous time for the Genao family. While enjoying a family vacation on a beach in Puerto Rico, Ravi was tragically struck twice by lightning. The bolt of lightning apparently traveled through the teenager's body, left, then bounced back through him again. "One minute, we're all laughing and having a good time, then all of sudden, the lightning comes with no warning and Ravi is out cold, on his back, with foam coming from his mouth," Hector Genao recalled. "We couldn't believe what was happening. At first, I thought it was temporary and that he would just snap out of it." Unfortunately, that did not happen. Ravi spent nearly a month in a Puerto Rican hospital, then was transported back to New Jersey to receive treatment, first at Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick, then the Children's Specialized Hospital in Mountainside. Genao spent three months at the latter, trying to rehabilitate from the severe shock. "Doctors said that Ravi was brain damaged, but I didn't want to believe that," Hector Genao said. "They wanted to pull him off the [ventilating] machine and they thought he might go, but he has continued to stay with us." Ravi, now 17 years old, has not shown major improvement from a near-catatonic state. He has yet to respond to commands and remains bed-ridden in serious physical distress. He has been released to his Hoboken home, where he is receiving daily treatment from a serious of doctors and therapists. He has been fitted with a feeding tube, while therapists push his muscles, hoping for a sign of life. "I want to remain very optimistic," Hector Genao said. "We've stood by Ravi and we've never left him. He's been healing at home, but it's a lot of work, with round-the-clock care. We want to show him the love he needs, that we need him to come out of it. We have faith that he will. We're willing to do whatever it takes." Cunning also keeps the faith, so much so that he has organized a fund-raising effort to help the Genao family meet the high expenses of treating Ravi. Cunning has initiated the Ravi Genao Fund, which had its first function last Saturday night at Willie McBride's in Hoboken. Nearly 50 people attended the fund-raising event, which featured a cocktail party at the popular Irish pub and restaurant, followed by tickets to the Seton Hall-Notre Dame college basketball game at the Continental Airlines Arena. Cunning called upon the services of his sister, Helen, who serves as the vice-president of development at Seton Hall. "The school's Pirate Blue Club donated the tickets and Willie McBride's donated the pre-game party," Cunning said. "We were able to raise $1,850. We hope it's the first of a series of events to help Ravi. He's a great kid." Cunning, who coached basketball at OLG for 17 years and has been a Hoboken firefighter for 13 years, added, "and they're the closest family that you ever want to meet. We had to do something for them, because this is definitely going to be an uphill battle. The medical costs were getting ridiculous for Ravi's family. It's really heartbreaking to see him this way." Cunning recalled having the opportunity to coach Ravi. "He was always tall and lanky, but because he wanted to play so much, we always found a spot for him," Cunning said. "He was always in there trying and he turned out to be pretty good. In high school, he turned his attentions to track and was just beginning to blossom. I can't believe this has happened." Cunning has been a part of the annual Hoboken Police-Fire fund-raising basketball game in the past and he has already convinced both sides to donate the proceeds of this year's game to the Ravi Genao Fund. That game will be played May 6 at Hoboken High School. "Since we're at ground zero, we're looking for any donations we can get, prizes to raffle off, anything," Cunning said. "Even if it's just a card or a letter. Anything people want to do. He's a great kid who deserves our help. We plan on holding other events as well." Hector Genao is touched by the generosity of the community. "It really makes me feel that people do care," Genao said. "All these people are so willing to chip in and help. Everyone has been so supportive with their prayers and their generosity. People are constantly coming over to the house to offer support. It's all we have to hold on to now. It's what life is all about. People are willing to do all of this for my son, Ravi. It really is special." Cunning said it's the least he could do. "We're trying to raise as much money as we can," Cunning said. "I'll do anything for the kid. We're all behind him and we're never letting go to the hope. We keep hearing of stories where people snap out of it. That's what keeps us going. And it's not just me. It's a lot of people."
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