Robert Browne, a Long Beach boy with Cork ancestry on his father’s side, suffered a devastating spinal injury from a surfing accident. Now left with mounting medical bills and a home, which was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, now in need of modification “Team Robert Browne” is turning to the community for help.
Already the community is rallying and a Rockaways casino night later this month is sold out. However, this week the Browne family was dealt another blow.
The family wrote on their Facebook page: “Robert's insurance has been exhausted and discontinued for his inpatient rehab that he needs desperately. If you can help please make a tax deductible donation to: www.teamrobertbrowne.org.”
On July 3 of this year, young Robert was attending a local surf camp in Long Beach when a girl “dropped in” - which in surfer parlance means she also started riding - Robert’s wave.
Rather than colliding and injuring her, Robert decided to hit the sand bar, shattering bones in his neck which then traveled though his spinal cord, creating significant damage. The accident left Robert with two paralyzed legs and disrupted the movement of his hands and fingers.
“Robert kicked the board away from her to make sure she didn’t get hurt,” his uncle Tom Browne, a member of the Irish Business Organization, told the Irish Voice. “He went down the way he did because of that.”
Long Beach, like the other Irish stronghold of Far Rockaway, is long famous for its surfing lifestyle. Thirteen-year-old Robert is typical of the kind of spirited local kid who thrives in that seasonal but dedicated surfing community.
“Robert’s a lovely kid,” his uncle says. “On his 13th birthday in June the party was breaking up and his grandmother announced in her Irish accent, ‘Ah, I’ll be going home now,’ and Robert overheard her. He ran over, he grabbed her by the hand and he said, ‘Grandma, I’m going to walk you home.’”
The reason Tom Browne remembers this exchange so well is that he saw the pair holding hands as they walked away. “I thought what a perfect picture it would make,” he says.
Robert came home about 20 minutes later and his uncle patted him on the head and told him that it was a really nice thing he had done.
“’We have to look out for Nana, right Uncle Tommy?’” he told me. That’s kind of how sweet he is.”
It’s not the first time tragedy has struck Robert’s family. In 2012 his family was impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, which saw them lose their home.
Moving into a trailer on their property while waiting for promised assistance from the City of Long Beach that has yet to arrive, young Robert reportedly kept his family’s spirits up though his love of surfing and his seaside town.
“When his family was displaced after Hurricane Sandy he lived with relatives as he studied upstate and even then was top of the class. He was voted the most popular kid for the year. He’s on the National Honor Society. He’s a straight A student. He really is a special kid.”
Robert seems to shine whatever hardships he’s endured his uncle says. “Even now he’s very cheerful and optimistic. There’s a lot of laughing. He doesn’t seem to focus on his predicament.”
Others have noticed his courage. CBS will host an award ceremony for Robert on October 28 at City University of New York on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue. “He’s getting an award called the Unsung Hero Award,” explains his uncle. “We’ll bring him on the day.”
Meanwhile, friends report that Robert has recovered some feeling in his feet in recent days. Some close to him dare to hope that his youth and determination to recover will help him regain some use of his legs with help from his physical therapy.
But Robert’s medical bills will still be as daunting as the path ahead of him. To that end, friends and supporters have created a website where people can make donations, and they also organized the September 19 fundraiser.
“Anyone who wants to help can donate. There’s a trust created in Robert’s name and anyone who wants to show support for Robert can go to www.teamrobertbrowne.org to donate,” says Tom Browne.
To follow Robert’s inspiring story join the Team Robert Browne Facebook community.