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Couple seeks help from Queens for disabled daughter

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Looking back 25 years, Leslie Montali said the experiences and relationships she formed growing up in Bay Terrace have served as the rock of her life. Speaking on the phone from her home in Florida, the wife and mother of two said that despite the distances in miles and years, the northeast Queens community is still there for her and her family.

Next month the Montali and her family will return to their old neighborhood, where friends and loved will rally in support of daughter Ashtyn, who lives with cerebral palsy.

“Adam and I had a fairy tale,” she said, speaking about her husband. In 1986, Adam Montali moved to Bay Terrace from Howard Beach, where he attended IS 25 with Leslie Kohut.

“We became best friends for years,” she said.

Five years later, when they were seniors in high school — he at Bayside High and she at Cardozo — they began dating.

“Adam was involved for a really long time with the Bayside Little League. I was in the theater program in high school and very active as the student body president,” she recalled.

They went to the prom together and continued to date while they attended different colleges. After they got married in 2001, the Montalis moved to the Boca Raton area where their parents had relocated.

They bought a house; had a son, Jeffe, and started living the life they had always imagined.

“We were high school sweethearts who were friends our whole lives,” she said.

But when they had their second child their lives changed drastically. Ashtyn was born June 14, 2003. During a traumatic birth, she suffered from a lack of oxygen that led to hemorrhaging in her brain and she had to spend 17 days in the hospital. At 4 months old, she weighed only 9 pounds 8 ounces.

“We knew in our gut something was wrong,” Montali said.

After a misdiagnosis, her condition was correctly identified as cerebral palsy.

“Those first couple of years were really difficult. She had five major surgeries and was living in and out of a hospital,” she said.

Montali had to quit her job so she could completely devote herself to her daughter, who requires 24/7 care.

“Very little that I do doesn’t revolve around her. I lost a bit of my individual­ity,” Montali said, adding that her daughter has taught her important life lessons. “I was meant to be the most amazing mom. My whole heart is in it.”

Ashtyn loves music, horseback riding and swimming and gets along well with other children. Her defining characteristic, said her mother, is her constant smile. “If not for those smiles, I wouldn’t make it through my day.”

Now that Ashtyn is getting older, she requires more care. So Montali’s friends — Bryan Yankelevitz and Seth Barcus, her brother’s best friends growing up, and Tami Oppenheimer, her friend from high school and maid of honor — organized a committee to produce Butterfly Dreams, a benefit for Ashtyn. The charity golf outing will be held April 29 at the Clearview Golf Course, back in the family’s old neighborhood.

“It says a lot about where we grew up and the people who grew up there,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of families have difficulty raising a child. Our history and our past kept us so solid. We’ve had an amazing friendship over 25 years. It’s the bond that’s kept us solid. It has been our rock.”

For more information, visit butterflydreams.myevent.com.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 10:56 am, October 12, 2011
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