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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 16, 2007

Turning horror into hope

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage."

— Anais Nin

raig Joseph Gardner was the hero of his graduating class. This June, the Guilderland High School principal began his commencement speech with a dictionary definition of courage and then quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: "You must do the thing you think you cannot."

He then went on to talk about a Guilderland graduate: "In November, a young man faced a life-threatening infection in his heart...He underwent a very dangerous and risky surgery...The odds were not in his favor...Courage and fortitude brought him through."

Gardner was praised not just for his bravery in facing surgery but throughout the long recovery and "uphill climb to complete his course work to graduate on time." He is now poised to start his college career at the University of Hartford.

The principal concluded, "He and his parents are an inspiration to me."

We’re sure they are an inspiration to many. Gardner’s classmates rose to their feet in a spontaneous ovation, a tribute to his heroism.

Sometimes heroism works in more quiet, less public ways.

Just two floors away from Gardner in the same hospital where he was having heart surgery, another Guilderland senior was facing life-threatening surgery as well.

Stephenie Bintz, who had suffered for years with scoliosis, was having two titanium rods put in her spine.

"She could have had paralysis if he nicked a nerve," said her mother, Michelle Bintz. "She could have become a quadriplegic. It was very, very life-threatening. Her life was literally in his hands," she said of the surgeon.

Bintz pulled through — her spine, which had had a curvature of 49 degrees was straightened to 24 degrees. A varsity swimmer and team captain, Bintz will now pursue the sport at Cortland State. She had waited to have the surgery until the season was over.

After a week in the hospital, Bintz spent months in recovery. She persevered and competed this month in the Empire State Games.

"Two months ago," she told our sportswriter Tim Matteson, "it felt like I was swimming in sludge. It had never been that hard for me."

She had been apprehensive, too, about her future in college.

"You don’t know if someone would recruit you when you tell someone that you are having surgery and need to take six months off."

Cortland Coach Brian Tobin stood by his commitment to Bintz. "She has the qualities to be successful," Tobin said, "in college and beyond. She will not just be a successful student-athlete, but she will be great at teaching, or, if she decides to do something else, she’s going to be successful. She’s a real go-getter."

Although we admired Bintz as portrayed in Matteson’s story — he captured her buoyant spirit as well as her serious commitment to a sport — we didn’t fully understand the force of her inspiration until we got a letter, published this week, from Corrina Goutos.

"While reading Stephenie’s story," writes Goutos, "I saw my future self, or at least a potential me...."

Goutos, too, suffers from scoliosis. "In the judgmental days of high school," she writes, "I was embarrassed to wear my brace and I felt like the only girl on earth who had to wear a plastic corset....I felt I had to hide my secret under oversized T-shirts and abandon all fashionable attempts thereon.

"When I met Stephenie, however, I saw I was not alone and that I was not that bad off. Stephenie had something I didn’t have at that time: a brighter outlook."

She writes that Bintz was "the first person who made me feel normal and comfortable with my situation."

We were moved but also surprised by Goutos’s letter. We had first met her through a picture, which ran on our front page last summer. She looked beautiful, and poised beyond her years, as she spoke at Village Hall about what teenagers valued in Altamont. We were impressed with her intelligence and commitment as well as her maturity when we interviewed her this year as the leader of an animal rights group at the Guilderland High School.

What her letter shows us is the ripple effect that a person who lives with grace and passion can have on others. Just as the applause rippled across the hall for Gardner at graduation, Bintz’s courage has inspired Goutos who in turn, writes, "Since I’ve known Stephenie, I have met two other girls with scoliosis braces and I hope I was able to give them the type of encouragement that Stephenie had offered to me."

To turn an ailment into an opportunity, to turn isolation into camaraderie, to turn horror into hope, to inspire others to believe in themselves expands life’s horizons for us all.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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