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Paraplegic man surprised with Summerfest tickets

Posted at 7:06 PM, Jun 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-27 20:06:21-04

A paraplegic Milwaukee man was given free tickets to see Zac Brown Band at Summerfest thanks to Aurora Health Care.

Aurora Health Care is the official partner with Summerfest. They sent out a message to their staff to nominate deserving patients. Maria De Valk knew exactly who to nominate.

"When I saw Aurora was doing this Summerfest collaboration to nominate a patient who would benefit from going to Summerfest, he immediately came to mind," De Valk said.

That patient is Donyia Rothfelder. He was born paraplegic after complications before he was born. He was adopted by a nurse working at the hospital some 26 years ago and they raised him. The hand he was dealt with surely wasn't the best one, but he's been able to make the best of it through music.

"Music is always going to be there for everyone," Rothfelder said. "When you turn on a song, I say, you know what? Everything is going to be ok. Nothing is going to bother you. It's going to be cool."

Growing up without the use of the lower half of his body presented its own difficulties. Like any teenager, he had emotions he didn't know how to best express. Music helped in that.

Bands like Green Day, Simple Plan, Fall Out Boy and All Time Low gave him the courage to keep going on. Their words and music spoke to him and let him have the positive attitude he still has today.

He would play his music while in the hospital. It was astounding to his caretakers to walk into his room, as sick as he was, and he'd have a smile on his face with his favorite music on in the background.

"It was always easy to enter his room," De Valk said. "There's always such a good energy in there. If someone like him can wake up and be happy every single day, I think that's a life lesson for us right?"

De Valk worked closely with Rothfelder. She presented the tickets to him in a surprise ceremony. Rothfelder, his electrifying smile going ear to ear, said he nearly had a heart attack because of the commotion. The entire experience got De Valk choked up thinking about how inspiring he has been to her and how she takes care of other patients aside from the medical.

"So inspiring. I feel like I often think about interactions I had with him a year ago and implement them into my practice today when taking care of people," De Valk said. "When I can incorporate things like music and laughter because of how I saw it affected him."

Punk rock and Zac Brown Band may not be close to the same genre but Rothfelder says he's excited for a "little bit of chicken fried" and to go to the concert with those he loves on Sunday.