NYer Of The Week: Quemuel Arroyo Brings Hope To The Hospitalized
After a ninth-month hospital stay, this week's New Yorker of the Week is working to improve patients' lives by helping them see beyond hospital walls. John Schiumo filed the following report.
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Project Sunshine has many volunteers devoted to making hospitalized New Yorkers feel better. But few have the experience of Quemuel Arroyo.
"I know what its like to be in a hospital and not have people around on a Sunday afternoon," Arroyo says. "Being institutionalized, living in a medical facility, totally changes your mindset and pretty much makes it gloomy and dark."
At 18 years old, Arroyo suffered a spinal cord injury when a cycling accident fractured his spine.
"It was pretty sad," he says, "and it sucked."
He thought his dreams would never come to be – until one day, a visitor suggested he do some arts and crafts.
"They came into my room and they said, 'arts and crafts' and I said, 'get out,'" he remembers. "At 18, having had this life-altering accident, Ii was not thinking of arts and crafts – it was the last thing on my mind. But what that brought in was the opportunity for me to meet Project Sunshine volunteers."
Unlike the white-coated doctors who rushed around him, the yellow t-shirt-wearing Project Sunshine members just wanted to hang out.
"Thereafter we started talking about college, which I had given up on," Arroyo says. "I'd never seen anyone in a wheelchair go to college."
Today Arroyo is about to graduate from NYU, and he's giving back to young patients as a Project Sunshine volunteer. He also has a new outlook on overcoming traumatic injury.
"I've learned that we are pretty limitless, and the only boundaries we have are those that we put on ourselves," he says.
"I think his experience makes his time with our patients richer," says Child Life Specialist Emily Johnson of Harlem Hospital. "Because what he's gone through, he knows how to reach them on that level."
"The impact that we have on peoples' lives and the impact these patients have even on my life, it's just exponential seeing how happy I can make a kid, a teenager, an adult, just by coming in and saying 'what's up,'" Arroyo says.
And so, for bringing sunshine to hospital wards around the city, Quemuel Arroyo is our New Yorker of the Week.