UNION, NJ – Chrissy and Michael Lacerda’s lives were almost perfect.  They met in 1997, married, and welcomed their daughter Skylar in 2010.  They were a young, hardworking couple who bought their first home together in Union and were active in the community.  Things were good.

One day in May of 2016, Michael began experiencing a persistent headache.  Chrissy didn’t think much of it, and suggested he take some aspirin. Michael obliged, and within a few hours his headache was gone.  The next day, his headache returned.  He told Chrissy it was more of a neck ache, near the bottom of the back of his neck. Thinking it was nothing but a stiff neck from sleeping poorly, Chrissy rubbed Bengay on his neck before bed. 

On May 7, Skylar awoke, but Michael did not get up with her, as was his usual routine.  Instead, Skylar got into bed with her mom and dad to watch cartoons.  When Michael awoke, he exclaimed that his headache was “really bad”.  Suddenly, he began shaking.  He could not respond to Chrissy.  She thought he was having a heart attack. 

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The ambulance arrived and the decision was made to take Michael to Overlook Hospital.  This quick decision, says Chrissy, probably saved his life.  The doctors discovered that Michael had a brain aneurysm that ruptured.  He was in critical condition.  He had immediate surgery and spent two days on life support.  His lungs collapsed.  He had three strokes while in the hospital from complications of the aneurysm. 

Michael spent 41 days in the Neuro ICU.  He was transferred to the Kessler Rehabilitation Center in West Orange where he spent another 35 days, until his rehabilitation benefits were exhausted.

According to Chrissy, Michael has short term memory loss, balance and coordination issues.  He can walk slowly, but does not have a lot of endurance.  He has cognitive and memory deficits.  He cannot work.  He cannot drive.  He lost hearing in his right ear.  “But, he has the best attitude around,” says Chrissy.

The family received health insurance through Michael’s employer, since Chrissy’s employer does not offer insurance.  Since he’s been out of work, the family has been on COBRA, at a cost of $2,400 per month.  “It is killing us,” said Chrissy, “but we need to keep up the insurance so Michael can continue to get therapy, his prescriptions, numerous monthly doctor appointments.” 

Chrissy said his therapy sessions will cease on April 17 because his outpatient therapy insurance benefit will be maxed out.  As of this time, State Disability has denied Michael’s claim.  Chrissy is appealing.

Chrissy said she has wiped out their savings just to cover the monthly mortgage and bills.  “Michael cannot be left alone due to his cognitive impairments, so I cannot get second job,” said Chrissy.  She said her family has been supportive and help transport Michael to and from therapy and doctor appointments. These days, she simply cannot afford to miss any more time from work.

“I know with the help of my community, family and friends, Mike will be able to keep getting the care he needs,” said Chrissy. 

This is where the community has stepped in to help out.  The 'Taste of Union' event, which annually showcases local restaurants and food vendors, will donate 100% of the event's proceeds to the Lacerda family.    

“We think this will be our best event ever,” said Phyllis Monguso, one of the ‘Taste of Union’ event organizers.  “We heard about the Lacerdas and their story really touched us.  Chrissy’s family and friends from the Ironbound section of Newark have been tremendous.  It’s going to be a great evening.”

The ‘Taste of Union’ will be held on April 20, beginning at 6:00 p.m. at the Union Knights of Columbus, 1034 Jeannette Avenue.

Tickets may be purchased at the Clerk’s Office in the Municipal Building, 1976 Morris Avenue (908-851-8501) or at the Senior Center, 968 Bonnel Court (908-851-5290).  Information on donations can be forwarded to Phyllis Monguso at 908-851-5290.

“We are so grateful to the ‘Taste of Union’”, said Chrissy.  “These donations will help us with our insurance premium and getting Michael the help he needs.  It will also help to bring awareness to brain injuries, which is so important to us.”