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At this benefit show, he'll be on the receiving end

"It's pay-back time."

That's how one friend of Michael Vaporis' put it. Everybody who knows this Clearwater native, who grew up in Tarpon Springs and Holiday, agrees that it's time to pay back Michael for all the good things he did for others.

It was Michael and his band, Shadowfax, that never hesitated to play for benefits in the late 1970s and '80s in Pinellas and Pasco counties. It was Michael, as area manager for Sacino's Formalwear stores, who donated tuxedos and sometimes was master of ceremonies for benefit fashion shows and other events.

Beneficiaries ranged from the Hunter Blood Center and the Make A Wish Foundation to the Angelus, a home in Hudson for physically and mentally disabled people that has been primarily supported by country singer Charlie Daniels.

For Michael, 32, life has taken a drastic turn in the past year. Not a turn for the worse _ he doesn't think like that _ but certainly a turn that has changed his perspective on what's important.

Things may never be quite the same for Michael, his wife, Peggy, and their daughters, Vanessa, 6, and Felicia, 4.

Life for Michael, to use his words, was moving along at 300 mph in the "retail rat race." Associated with Sacino's for six years, he managed four area stores _ at Clearwater, Countryside and Gulf View Square malls and one in Tampa _ and also supervised training for personnel in 26 stores throughout the state.

Now, he says, life has slowed to 3 mph and revolves around his home in Holiday and physical therapy three times a week at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Services in Tarpon Springs.

But Michael doesn't wring his hands in despair. While awaiting more medical tests and decisions about what he can do with the rest of his life, he is smelling the proverbial roses. "I watch my wife make cupcakes," he said. "I'm there to greet my kids when they get off the school bus in the afternoon."

It started in July 1994. His left side became partly paralyzed. He dragged his left leg and lost control of his left hand. Doctors blamed the paralysis on a neck fracture he probably had suffered some years earlier. He underwent neck fusion surgery in October.

But the paralysis returned four weeks later, worse than before. So doctors ordered more tests, which ultimately revealed a large growth on his spinal cord. Michael returned to the operating table in February. Doctors determined that the growth is not malignant and cannot be removed because of the way it is intertwined with the spinal cord.

The growth _ or deformity, as the doctors call it _ probably will increase in size. The paralysis has spread to Michael's right side. But he and Peggy are looking forward to more tests in August so they can figure out "how we deal with this." Travel to specialists in other parts of the country? Vocational training for a different kind of job for Michael?

Money, of course, is a worry. Savings have been used up. Michael can't work. But they're not destitute yet, so they do not qualify for things like food stamps and HRS programs. They hope to eventually get Social Security disability payments. They don't know what they will do when their medical insurance is cut off.

Peggy has a job _ as an office secretary at Gulf Middle School in New Port Richey who has helped out as coach for the cheerleaders and boys track team _ but she doesn't work in the summer.

There is lots of supportive family. In Tarpon Springs are Michael's dad, Mike Sr., and his wife, Helen; two sisters; a brother; and cousins, uncles and aunts, including Tarpon Springs Mayor Anita Protos. In Holiday are Michael's mother, Barbara Vaporis; Peggy's parents, Frank and Mary Pate; plus her brothers and sisters.

Michael's dad and uncles belong to the Tarpon Springs Elks Lodge, which is organizing a benefit starting at 5 p.m. July 15 featuring a fish fry, door prizes and music for dancing by Shadowfax, Michael's old band.

He and four Gulf High School buddies organized the band in 1977, playing for high school dances, weddings, club dates and various benefits. When they graduated in 1980, they toured Florida looking for their break. They didn't find it, and now they get together about once a year to play Top 40 music, an Elvis Presley medley and what Michael calls "good-time rock 'n' roll."

Michael did the vocals while playing guitar, piano and saxophone. His disability rules out the instruments, but he hopes to join the band on stage for some of the vocals.

The Elks Lodge is at 237 Pinellas Ave. S in Tarpon Springs. Benefit tickets costing $10 are available by calling the lodge at 934-7514.

Michael's daughter, Vanessa, by the way, will celebrate her seventh birthday the day of the benefit.

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