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Volunteers Bring Party to Disabled Patients

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jeffrey Goudeau will be in his hospital bed tonight, welcoming the New Year alone. His father is in another hospital, his daughters are in Atlanta and his stepmother doesn’t drive.

But volunteers helped throw an early New Year’s Eve party Thursday for Goudeau and 200 other patients at the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, a hospital for the severely disabled in Downey.

About 200 teenage Lions Club members, known as Leos, set up much of the event, dressing up as clowns, organizing games and serving food to the patients. Goudeau, a diabetic, took insulin shots in advance so he could have some of the treats.

“Last year I celebrated New Year’s at home,” said Goudeau, of South-Central Los Angeles. “But I want to live, so I’ll stay here.”

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Doctors diagnosed his diabetes when he was 5 years old. His right foot and a toe from his left foot have been amputated. Goudeau, 45, who uses a wheelchair, said he “is just glad to see the year 2000 alive.”

Event organizers said they hoped to bring holiday cheer to patients. Many suffer from traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, strokes and other disabling injuries.

“It’s difficult for them, being in the hospital during the holidays,” said Consuelo C. Diaz, the hospital’s chief executive officer.

But during the party, she looked over the crowd and said, “Look at them--they are smiling, having a good time.”

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The idea for the party began five years ago. Frank Campellone, a board member of the Lions Club and Los Amigos, thought the club’s younger members could cheer up patients.

The teenagers, high school students from Los Angeles County, said they enjoyed the volunteer work. The experience also showed them how people cope with physical disabilities.

“I kind of feel bad for them,” said 18-year-old Andy Garland, a senior at El Monte High School. “But I think us being here helps them a lot.”

Lions Club International President Jim Ervin made a quick stop at the hospital party. He asked 8-year-old Felix Rios what Santa brought him for Christmas. But the boy was too shy to answer and could only smile. The Compton boy was struck by a vehicle earlier this year, suffering injuries that caused his brain to swell. Nurses said he must remain at the hospital for several more months.

What he really wanted for Christmas, Felix said later, was to go home.

Teresa Morales will get to celebrate the New Year twice. She was getting ready to go home on Thursday, after spending two months at the hospital.

The 46-year-old South Los Angeles resident suffered a stroke and has trouble moving the right side of her face. But despite the pain she suffers, Morales said, she is looking forward to going home.

“I want to spend the holidays with my children,” Morales said. “That’s all I want.”

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