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Freedom to Walk Foundation gifts WalkAide devices at gala

Shirley Pereira almost didn't come to the Freedom to Walk Foundation's One Step at a Time Gala.

Pereira told the attendees at Tampa's Centre Club she becomes so emotional when people help her children and she didn't want to cry in front of everyone. Still, she fought back tears after learning the foundation will help make a difference in the life of her daughter Samara.

The foundation, founded by Riverview's Daisy Vega, gave Samara and Melanie Donaldson WalkAide devices. The devices will make it easier for them to deal with foot drop, a debilitating condition of weakness or paralysis in the muscles that lift the front part of the foot, a necessary part of walking.

Both recipients suffer from cerebral palsy.

"It's true joy," Vega said of her reaction to helping the patients. "Knowing that they don't have the money and knowing what it can do it for you. … You see it when the mothers cry because they know. Just to have someone help you means a lot."

For Vega, the Oct. 4 gala capped off another step in her goal to help patients with the same challenge she once faced. She had foot drop and purchased the WalkAide when her insurance company declined to pay for the $5,000 device.

Now, with the help of an energetic board and gala sponsors like Hanger Clinic, the foundation is fulfilling the mission that Vega says God put on her heart.

The gala drew nearly 200 attendees in its second year and the foundation now has momentum for a 5k run-walk that will be held in May.

Vega said the group also hopes to raise awareness among doctors, physical therapists and neurologists about the WalkAide. To learn more, go to

Times staff