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Since the early 1980s, Camille and Michael Geraldi have been caring for children with special needs. Together, the two have adopted or become guardians for more than 88 children with various physical and mental conditions, including Down’s Syndrome, spina bifida, mental retardation, cardiac problems, and many others.
Through the nonprofit organization created to help them in their mission, the Possible Dream Foundation (originally called the Up with Down Syndrome Foundation), the Geraldis have built not one but two homes where their children can grow up in an environment where their unique requirements can be met in a loving and advantageous manner. The Geraldis have focused on helping their children learn to do what they can – rather than what they can’t – and as a result they have exceeded expectations of many people, including friends, family, doctors, and the birth parents of many of the children they care for.
Sadly, however, the Possible Dream Foundation suffered a terrible loss earlier this year when Michael Geraldi – known affectionately as “Dr. Mike” to the patients of his pediatric practice – passed away due to mesothelioma.
Making Dreams Come True by Following Your Own
When Dr. Mike was alive, he used to tell everyone the story about how he met Camille. It was in 1972 at the Miami Children’s Hospital in Room 238. Camille, who was a nurse at the time, was holding an infant who was terminally ill, and Michael Geraldi was a pediatrician assigned to the case. “It was not romantic,” Camille told the Miami Herald in 1991, but nonetheless Michael would tell all his patients the story, and it became something of a legend.
From that initial meeting, Camille and Michael shared their desire to help children, especially those in need. Sadly, during the course of their professional lives they met many children with special needs who were abandoned by natural parents who were unable or unwilling to care for them. Their relationship grew over these children that nobody else seemed to care about, and over the next several years the two fell in love and were eventually married.
Camille had always known that she wanted to help children, and despite her initial hesitation at marrying Michael, she ultimately came to understand that his dedication to helping kids was as strong as her own. After being married the couple had three healthy children of their own, and they began adopting children who had special needs of one kind or another.
Over the next several decades, the Geraldis received a lot praise, but they also faced a lot of struggles. Camille was recognized as one of President George H. W. Bush’s “Points of Light,” and the family has been featured twice on the news documentary program 60 Minutes. At the same time, the family was also the target of vandalism and hatred within their original neighborhood in a suburb of Miami. Acts of violence and the vitriol of their neighbors forced the family to move to a 25-acre farm in North Carolina, near the border of Georgia.
Nonetheless, throughout their time together, Camille and Michael were able to weather the things that life threw at them, from the devastation of Michael’s pediatric practice by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, to the fire that burned down their North Carolina home in 2011. Camille devoted her full time to the Possible Dream Foundation and also has traveled around the world to offer talks and training about caring for individuals with special needs. Meanwhile, Michael supported the Foundation through his practice, and gave free care to many children with special needs.
Mesothelioma and Dr. Mike’s Legacy
In 2015, the couple celebrated their 40th anniversary, making plans to travel in April the following year on their first-ever vacation. Life had other plans, however, and in January 2015 Michael Geraldi was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He passed away on March 8, 2016, a day after his 73rd birthday, and less than a month from the time he and his wife had originally planned to spend on a cruise to Cancún.
The cause of Michael’s mesothelioma was exposure to asbestos, a dangerous substance and known carcinogen. He was exposed to the toxic chemical as a child and then again while in college and medical college. Given the long latency period of mesothelioma, it took decades for the disease to develop. It was during that time that he met, fell in love with, and built his unique and loving family with Camille.
Many of Michael’s patients – and their parents – remember Dr. Mike as a kind man who cared for and about everyone. Stories and outpourings of support for Camille and the large Geraldi family at the Possible Dream Foundation followed immediately from the news of Michael’s death. Camille herself remembered her husband as a man full of affection and esteem.
“We created a family that has brought us much love, happiness, and joy,” Camille wrote the day after her husband of more than 40 years passed away. “We cherished every moment together. We respected each other always.”
Now, Camille is continuing the work that she and her husband started decades ago, continuing to build the Possible Dream Foundation and helping others through education and resources on how to care for individuals with special needs. Although her husband is no longer here physically, his spirit lives on in those who have come out to help her through raising funds and carry on the mission she has always pursued.
To learn more about Camille and the Possible Dream Foundation, visit possibledream.org.