My Writing

 Meet Jersey Tough East Hanover Hero Matt Cardoso

2020

 Sitting in CityMD East Hanover Urgent Care, Matt Cardoso wondered if his appendix was bursting. The pain in his abdomen was awful. He was instructed to go to the emergency room. Cardoso is no stranger to the ER. He is a volunteer for the East Hanover Emergency Medical Service and works for Atlantic Mobile Health and an EMT. But, it was mid-March and COVID-19 was spreading quickly throughout New Jersey. As he was admitted, gowned up and moved to a room, the thought of testing positive ran through his mind. For that entire evening and the next day, alone in a room he waited. No visitors were allowed in, but calls and texts connected him with his family in this rough time. A CT scan confirmed pneumonia. He was sent home the next day with a stealth antibiotic and the stress of waiting for the test results.

 The call came one day later. He tested positive for COVID-19. His brain quickly recalled the weeks prior; who he saw, who he worked with, his parents, his siblings. It wasn’t fear that gripped him, it was reality mixed with a bit of relief. Relief of being sent home to recover which was much better than being alone in a hospital. 
 

 Cardoso is a volunteer for East Hanover Volunteer EMS , and East Hanover OEM since 2018. He is a graduate of Hanover Park High School where he was a student leader for several service clubs that mentored elementary school students, and supported local charities and small businesses. He was an intern for a local newspaper and recognized as 2018 Caring Student of the Year. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus East Hanover Council and serves as an usher and eucharistic minister at St. Rose of Lima church. He recently responded to requests for communion at home. Truly, a servant’s servant.
 

One night in 2018, Cardoso was driving home from work in Fairfield, and noticed thick smoke rising over a home on the side street he was approaching. Without hesitation he drove to the house as local law enforcement arrived. He remained with the officers until first responders secured the home, to ensure all was well. That night changed his life.
 

 Not long after his second semester at Montclair State University he submitted an application to Emergency Medical Technicial School and began four months of intense training. He became a nationally registered EMT in December 2019, long before Target ran out of hand sanitizer and nearly every St. Patrick’s Day parade was postponed, due to COVID-19. It was his time.
 

 Cardoso’s first day on the job for Atlantic was March 18th, the same week that a national emergency was declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He gloved up, got behind the wheel and spent his hours not just giving those suffering a ride, he gave then comfort. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with COVID-19, and would be out of commission for nearly 22 days. The East Hanover OEM, law enforcement and community leaders had plans in place to keep residents safe, informed, and hopeful. As he lay in his bed, slowly recovering, he recalled those moments realizing the love and encouragement he expressed to many, was exactly what he needed himself. 

 

“Caring for patients before and during the COVID19 pandemic is what I love to do. Keeping them safe and reassuring them that in their darkest hour, I would be with them was what I did. Sometimes, I guess I became so used to caring for others, it was hard for me to realize it was my time to step back and be taken care of,” he shared

The messages of love and support came pouring in through texts phone calls, social media and drive-bys. Local leaders checked in regularly, and he remained in close contact with his doctors through Telehealth. Mentally he grew stronger and physically he progressed. The return appointment to confirm full recovery was in reach. He started to feel more like himself, and that meant one thing, time to return to his post. That day came, and he was flooded with the expedient nature of a “positive test result” and PTSD that came with it. But the chest CT scan was clear, and he had just a few more days before he could return to work, on the front lines. 

 

 The timing of his return to work was, again, remarkable. His first order was to take part in a “Thank You Heroes” procession through St. Barnabas Medical Center. Law enforcement and first responders from several neighboring towns participated as doctors, nurses and medical professionals lined the sidewalks and windows in appreciation. It was there that Cardoso was able to personally thank the heroes that took care of him, a day he will never forget. “I remember sitting in my hospital bed while I was admitted. Scared and alone I wondered what it would finally be like to be out of there, healthy and to return to semi-normal life. The Doctors, Nurses and Nurse Practitioners took the best care of me. My goal was to heal in time and return to St. Barnabas with EH Vol. EMS to not only thank everyone at the hospital for their hard work, but to personally thank those health care heroes who saved my life”
 

The next day, feeling healthy and humbly grateful, he and his EHEMS colleagues added a special message to the billboard in the parking lot of the building, which read “Hope is NOT Cancelled,” along with Superintendent of schools Natalie Bartlett’s famous hashtag #WeAreEH, which now, hit home more than ever. One week later, Cardoso was able to return to work, beginning with night shifts for Atlantic Mobile Health with fresh perspective, and renewed strength, helping those who were also infected with the virus and once again doing what he loves to; care for others. 
 

“I am so thankful and blessed to live in a community which cares so deeply for their own. From all of my Brothers and Sisters at EH Vol. EMS who checked in, brought meals to my Brother Knights and St. Rose of Lima Family for all of the Prayers, I am truly thankful for the outpouring of support and love I received. It was a true display of family that we have here in East Hanover,” Cardoso added. “To the Doctors and Nurses at St. Barnabas Medical Center; thank you. For the care and support you gave me. Not only medically but to be in a hospital alone in such a hard time would be impossible without a support system of caring individuals to check in on you”

 

Later that same week, all of New Jersey, especially East Hanover, watched the Jersey4Jersey relief concert, where that same message of hope encouraged thousands of viewers. This East Hanover hero sure is Jersey Tough and he is always fighting for the town he loves.

The Heart of a Raider

2019

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ- It was not unusual for most of Mark Hoffer’s family and friends to hear from him daily through texts, emails, or phone calls; he was always checking in with, or on someone.  Mark never passed up the opportunity to share something important or funny.  It was so unusual that no one heard from him on that Sunday afternoon in September 2018. 

 

Mark Daniel Hoffer was born on December 22, 1987 to Sandy and John Hoffer.  His mother shared that he was happy and healthy from the beginning.  He always smiled and “would make friends with everyone.”  Mark had a very close relationship with his brother, Stephen and sister, Kelly.  Even though Stephen was ten years older than Mark, they shared a common interest in music, which was their bond. “We were brothers and a sister who didn’t fight,” said Stephen.  Kelly was not just Mark’s sister, she was also his best friend.  They bonded over just about everything. Kelly adored Mark and supported everything he did.  They were close and rarely did anything without checking in with each other, often sharing thoughts without saying a word.  Mark adored Kelly. She was his big sister, but he was bigger.

 

Mark’s relationship with his father was a close and powerful one that shaped both of their lives.  From the time he was little they shared a love of sports, and he was always Dad’s “little buddy.” Mark also had a very close bond with his mother, Sandy. She had his pulse; they shared everything. She held his heart, and he held hers.

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TM Ward Since 1869 and Brewing

2018

The great city of Newark was established in 1666. It is home to one of the busiest airports and seaports in the country and was named to Inc. magazines “Best Cities to do Business in America’’ list.

 

One of the pillars of this commerce driven city is T.M. Ward Coffee. Opened in 1869 and now run by the family’s fourth generation, with fifth already in training, T.M. Ward is a paragon of fine coffee and confections with treasures in every corner of their 944 Broadway location. 

 

Walking into the sweet aroma of roasted coffee among endless barrels of black diamonds and shelves lined with exotic flavors and blends was my “kid in a candy store” moment. Ironically, it really is a candy store too. While coffee lines the windows and walls, between them are isles of chocolate and yogurt covered treats. Endless containers of nuts roasted and mixed in many varieties and dried fruits brought me back to the first “sweet shop” I ever walked into many years back. Along the back wall and sprinkled through out the store is their own fresh roasted peanut butter…forget Kansas Toto, this is home.

 

Among all of this lies 145 years of tradition, family heritage and freshly roasted,outstanding coffee. I was brought in to the back of the store where packaging labeling and peanut roasting takes place. It was amazing. The machinery was buzzing along bagging fresh beans, stacks of burlap were stored near by and oh the magnificence that is the aroma of those beans. It almost distracted me from Scott and brother Rob’s tour and telling of their families’ story of coffee and commerce.

 

As I followed them back even to the loading dock, I could not help but think of the generations of hard work handed down from great grandfather and long roads of trial error and triumph that brought T.M. Ward not only where it is today, but where it is going tomorrow. 

 

Some of their signature blends include Supreme Court Justice Judge Samuel Alito Bold Justice Blend, Full City Dark Roast and my current favorite Garden State Blend.The list of flavored coffee is endless including Bananas Foster and Blueberry Cinnamon Crumble. If you are craving coffee as I now am click over to T.M Ward Coffee and get in on the greatness. Better yet stop in their Newark location for an experience like none other or visit their Chatham location. Check them out on Facebook and Twitter. Either way you are guaranteed an exceptional coffee experience.

Lights, Camera, Fashion

2014

Walking into EVR Lounge in the heart of Manhattans' Empire district, arriving three hours before a fashion event begins is actually a few hours late. Models were everywhere with beautiful hairstyles and make up in the finishing touches, the red carpet was ready, the drinks were chilled and the camera’s filled. As glamorous as the runway is, the real magic of any fashion event takes place behind the scenes.

 

It was time for online fashion magazine International Fashionistas spring soiree and with the production team of Barbara Koning of Urban Gypsy Productions and Chance Spiessbach of Chance TV,  It was gonna be a ‘good good night.’ 

 

International Fashionistas founder, Elle Madrona graciously shared her passion seeing beauty in every culture and in every one her travels take her to. Her eye for fashion goes deeper, aiming more for the heart. This show brought to life her passion and timed beautifully with the launch of her new book, “The Look”.

Madrona who was a former dance director and choreographer directed and choreographed the entire show and graced the red carpet adorned in a fabulous dress designed by Natasha Berezhnaya.

 

The vastly talented Michelle Parkes Hair team, including, Stephanie Castoro and Heather Zipko, fashioned each model with a look created by exclusively by Parkes, capping off the beautiful costumes worn by the models. When they are not revving up runway looks you can find them at Core Salon in Randolph, where Parkes is owner and artistic director.

 

Make up artists Holly Brewer and Averi Constance of HollyKat Cosmetics tagged teamed to bring the entire look together. 

 

Models ready, cameras flashing, and music pounding was the perfect atmosphere as guests pressed to see the runway come to life.  The amazing view from the model entrance caught Amanda Greer’s less than 4 minute wardrobe change pulled off flawlessly by Michelle Parkes and her team. The evening was capped of with opportunity to get to know certified life coachand style consultant Susan Korwin and Dr. Robert Korwin. Korwin is also author of the book,"Simple Strides Towards Positive Change". She is beautiful from the inside out.

 

Leaving the  EVR lounge later that night brought the realization that this was more than an opportunity to write, but  but to witness a production take place where creativity beauty and performance came together; where beauty from around the world collided with New York City fashion and was fueled by passion, not just to create beauty but to see it and draw it out from within.

She Thought She Could So She Did

2019

Belle Christ, wears number 75 on her lacrosse jersey for the Randolph Rams. She wears her hair braided with a headband. She wears the look of a fiercely competitive athlete on her face when she is on the field and the smile of encouragement when she is not. She will soon wear the blue and gold of Goucher College as she has accepted an offer to play lacrosse in Towson, Maryland. What she doesn’t wear is the diagnosis of cystic fibrosis.

 

She entered this world as a robust twin to brother Adam. Although she was hitting all of the benchmarks of a growing baby, mom Liz began to notice some things that didn’t seem right. She questioned the pediatrician and even suggested testing for cystic fibrosis. Her questioning was met with assurance that nothing was wrong, and that she might just be a nervous mom. In spite of the answers she was handed, she researched on her own and found that Belle had six of the eight symptoms for CF and promptly switched doctors.  At nineteen months old, she got the confirmation that nothing is more powerful than a mom’s instinct and her fears realized.

The family stopped at nothing to learn everything they could about CF and how Belle could live with this fatal disease. For the first few years of her life, Belle grew, laughed, loved and even ‘mothered’ her twin brother.

An ‘exceptional really healthy kid, who sometimes gets sick’ is how mom describes her. Both Mom and daughter reminisce about the roots of Belle’s passion and drive as an athlete and both agree on the source.

“Shaun made my daughter an athlete,” Liz shared.  She is speaks of Shaun O’Hara, former New York Giants Super Bowl Champ, who, for the last 10 years hosts a celebrity golf outing supporting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation-Greater New Jersey Chapter. 

“Belle was invited to her first event when she was seven, she became a football fan that night, and woke the next morning and asked if it was all a dream, because it was the best day ever,” Liz shared.

Belle was in awe of O’Hara and team mate Jeff Feagles; she wanted to be a “warrior like them.” They too were taken with her beautiful soul and boundless spirit. The following year, she spoke at the Foundation event, full of couragement and passion. Clearly she knows the circumstances too.” There isn’t government funding for CF so I need to let all these generous people know they are the reason research advances and hope for a cure,” Belle said. 

Then came Belle’s first hospitalization six years ago, a “tune up”. While it was routine, a complication left Belle with little use of her arm. O’Hara and his wife Amy heard she was having a hard time and came to her bed side. He did what he was wired to do, he got a Wii and competed with her until she could move her arm, and she did.

“Shaun’s belief in Belle changed her life,” mom shared. The Christ family have supported the Shaun O’Hara Foundation efforts with Belle in attendance as often as possible; even for a golf cart driving lesson from 60 which, finished much better than it started.

Sitting in the bleachers with a bruised knee you don’t see Belle’s diagnosis and that is how she lives her life. Her biggest responsibility is the feeding tube she has had since she was seven. It helps her maintain a healthy weight and, has not held her back in any way, even with her decision to go away to college.  It does create some concern for mom, who will be an empty nester this fall, in more ways than most. She says “Belle is independent and does everything herself.” Her doctors have reassured that she is ready for this and for some fun.

Belle has played lacrosse since fourth grade and excelled. When the team needed a goalie, she stepped up to the challenge, “it just kinda stuck,” she said. She loved how the game is based on working together and team effort. She spent time watching college games and wanted to perfect her craft, “I want to be that good,” she said.

Her sophomore year, the senior goalie became Belle’s mentor, she learned everything she needed to earn a scholarship to play in college from her mentor, most of all rising above fear; familiar territory for Belle.

Today she stands in those turf shoes, similar to her mentor, as she has invests in younger players and will call Goucher College home in the fall. It is a smaller school as crowds are not comfortable, and her main focus will be keeping her lungs healthy. She will miss her brother Adam, who will attend Rutgers in the fall and will be a part of the marching band, but plans to catch some football games with her parents. 

 

As the spring begins a season of firsts for the Christ family, the constants remain strong family bonds, a zest for life, and a hope for the future.

©2019 by Lori Sica, Let Me Tell Your Story

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