Once Facing a Crisis, She’s Now Having a Ball

PALM BEACH, FL – Ten years ago, Janet Levy suffered a major stroke that paralyzed her left side. Two years ago, she began riding a bicycle. Last year, she launched a successful gala inspired by the doctor who helped her recover, and this year, she’s doing it again.

It wasn’t a straight road from her paralysis one night at home in Connecticut to a blockbuster gala in Palm Beach a decade later. But it was close.

Healthy, and then not

A wife to husband Mark, and mom of two boys, Levy was healthy, active and exercised daily. She grew up in Connecticut, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and was active in business. She owned an interior design business and sold commercial and industrial real estate.

Janet LevyOne night at home in 2002, a week after her visit to a chiropractor, she suddenly collapsed, barely able to move. She called her chiropractor, who suggested she visit him, but she declined and soon discovered that the chiropractor’s neck manipulation damaged an artery. It turned out she suffered a stroke and would need surgery to relieve a clot that developed in her brain.

“The doctors said I’d never walk again,” she said.

Her medical crisis ultimately led her to Dr. Ralph Sacco, who at the time was chief of New York-Presbyterian hospital’s stroke centers and a professor of neurology at Columbia University. With Sacco’s help, Levy began an arduous recovery.

“He was the only doctor who gave me any hope,” Levy said.

Fast forward to 2005: Levy bought a home in Palm Beach, and moved to Florida permanently in 2009. She learned that Sacco, too, had relocated to South Florida, recruited by University of Miami President Donna Shalala to chair the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology.

Levy visited with Sacco, who showed her UM’s neurology facilities and discussed the work researchers there are doing with stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

Impressed by the visit, Levy wondered why so many Palm Beachers travel to New York, Boston or elsewhere for treatment when top-notch doctors and facilities are available in south Florida.

“To some people in Palm Beach, going to Miami for treatment is a big deal,” Levy said. “But the University of Miami has facilities in Boca, and they’re trying to move up to the West Palm Beach/Palm Beach Gardens area. More people should know what they’re doing.”

A gala is born

In an effort to highlight UM’s neurological capabilities and encourage its expansion northward, Levy teamed up with fellow Palm Beacher Cindy Feltenstein and launched “Solving the Neurological Puzzle,” a gala benefitting the university’s neurology department.

Last January’s program at The Breakers drew more than 400 people and featured A-list comedian and “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno.

“We were very successful,” Levy said. “We raised a lot of money and a lot of awareness,” which she’s looking to duplicate in the second annual gala, scheduled for Feb. 2, 2013.

Levy has a long history of supporting philanthropies. She’s helped the American Heart Association, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as well as the Ronald McDonald House in Connecticut and other groups. She’s a member of the International Society of Palm Beach and is a board member of LIFE (Leaders in Furthering Education).

For Levy, accountability is essential to her philanthropy.

“I don’t like to give unless I know where the money is going,” she said. “In our gala, the money is staying right here in south Florida. It’s going to hire researchers and helping to eradicate major diseases.”

“I know it’s a good cause,” she said.

Justin Levy, Janet Levy, Mark Levy, Matthew Levy

Justin, Janet, Mark and Matthew Levy

True to the passion sparked by her medical crisis, Levy has founded several support groups for young stroke victims. She’s created information networks for victims of stroke and has succeeded in lobbying for several health care laws in the Connecticut legislature.

Over the years, her health improved, and she’s now become an avid bicyclist.

“Two years ago, I started to ride a bike again. At first I couldn’t hold my foot on the pedal, but I didn’t give up. Now, I ride all over the place.”

“Solving the Neurological Puzzle,” the second annual Palm Beach gala of the University of Miami’s Department of Neurology, will be Feb. 2, 2013, at The Breakers. For more information, read the story about the gala in Upcoming Galas..

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