Hurricane Grill & Wings throws fundraiser for student

February 13, 2015

Sun Sentinel

Out of the blue, 8-year old Armaan Ali, a second-grader at Greenacres Elementary School, was diagnosed with acute liver failure and put on the high priority list for a transplant.

Always a healthy child, the A student who loved to play soccer came home one night feeling ill and complaining of a stomach ache. After vomiting severely, his mother, Liliana, noticed the whites of his eyes were turning yellow.

“It was like a knife through my heart,” she said, remembering the events when she rushed him immediately to St. Mary’s Hospital. “He had never been sick before.”

The next day, doctors removed his gallbladder, but noticed that his liver enzymes were exceedingly high. Armaan was transferred to Holtz Children’s Hospital at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami where his mother learned he was weakening quickly and deteriorating by the hour.Armaan Photo

The youngest of three siblings, Armaan has an older brother, Azam, 20, who left college at Florida Atlantic University to get a job and help his parents through this economic hardship. His sister, Janet, 14, is in a pre-med magnet program at Boca Raton Middle School.

Liliana Ali quit her job as a nanny to stay at Armaan’s bedside for four months. Her husband, Asbaar, was supporting the family with his job at a gas station.

Three days before the transplant came through, Liliana Ali said her son was close to death.

“He was vomiting blood and crying. How could I tell him everything will be OK and comfort him when I want to cry and lose control?” she said.

The call came through at 4 a.m. with a possible donor.

“I don’t know how I signed the papers,” she said. “My hands were shaking, my legs were wobbling and all the doctors were congratulating me.”

The donor liver came from a 4-year-old child.

As happy as she was for her son, knowing the liver came from a child who lost his or her life, Liliana Ali said, “Why are you congratulating me? Another child is dead and how many more are waiting for their chance at life?”

On Aug. 5, Armaan underwent a liver transplant.

Through the hospital, he was connected to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.

Armaan’s lifelong desire is to visit the volcanoes in Haleakala, Hawaii, learn how to surf and attend a luau.

The foundation teamed up with the Hurricane Grill & Wings in Boynton Beach to have a fundraising event on Jan. 24 for Armaan and grant him his wish.

Owners Peter Guala and Tom Markert, who have been involved in community events since the restaurant opened in 2013, including having a fundraiser for Boynton Beach Police officer Jose Rivera when his premature daughter, Emily, was born, were happy to help.

“When we learned from Make-A-Wish of Southern Florida that one of our neighbors – Armaan Ali -was in need of help to have his wish to go see the volcanoes in Hawaii granted, we immediately offered our assistance,” Guala said. “The entire Hurricane Grill & Wings team has embraced this deserving 8-year-old and with the support and generosity of our customers, we look forward to making Armaan’s wish come true.”

The family lives across the street from the restaurant and Liliana Ali said, jokingly, that not only were they fulfilling Armaan’s dream, but her daughter’s as well, who loves to eat at the restaurant.

Stephanie L. Eckert, corporate relations manager for Make-A-Wish Southern Florida, said, “Make-A-Wish is extremely grateful that Hurricane Grill & Wings is helping ‘Share the Power of a Wish,’ by sponsoring Armaan’s wish to go to Hawaii.”

“Companies like theirs play an important role in fulfilling our mission and we appreciate their continued support,” she said.

After two months in the hospital, Armaan spent a month in Ronald McDonald House and Liliana Ali has decided to become an ambassador for them.

Currently, Armaan is being home-schooled but hopes to return to school by the end of March.

“If anyone is strong, it’s my 8-year old son,” she said. “The fundraiser was very emotional. It was sad, but also happy to see so many people willing to make a difference.”

The family can no longer afford their rent on their apartment, had their electricity shut off and has to move.

Liliana Ali said that is a small trade-off to make to have her son back.

“Having my son next to me alive is the only thing that matters,” she said.

Armaan now celebrates two birthdays: Oct. 31 and Aug. 5, the day he got his life back.

To support Armaan’s wish to visit Hawaii, visit http://friends.wish.org/017-000/page/Hurricane%20Grill%20And-Wings/Hurricane-Grill-and-Wings-.htm.