By REBECCA ISENHART
SCOTIA — Victoria Purcell couldn’t walk or talk after she had a stroke during surgery at the age of 12.
Now 23, she credits Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady with giving her back her life.
“It’s a miracle that I’m here,” said Purcell, who spent three months at the hospital, then continued outpatient therapy for years.
On Sept. 22, she mingled with the crowd and walked among the tables selling raffle tickets at the annual fashion show fundraiser for Sunnyview.
“I learned ways to cope with [my stroke] through different therapists,” she said. “There’s nothing I can really say but ‘thank you.’ ”
Purcell, and patients like her, are the heart of the reason members and friends of the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital Auxiliary get dressed up each year and strut their stuff through the center of a luncheon at the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia.
The event has been going on so long that even the organizers don’t know exactly when it started, but they guess it’s been a tradition for about two decades.
They dress in clothes borrowed from Chico’s in Stuyvesant Plaza, a partner for four years, though many of them end up purchasing their playful outfits. Animal print, faux leather, fur and stacks of sparkling jewelry were the mode this year.
“People see me in a different role versus what they see me like every day,” said Kathie Ziobrowski, executive director of the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation. Usually she dresses in crisp professional wear, but she went all-out in leopard print pants during her first catwalk.
“Wait till you see the leather-type pants I’m in later,” she said.
She’s not the only one to break her usual image. Models included staff of the hospital on Schenectady’s North Side, auxiliary members, a physician from the hospital, and hospital board members, including Schenectady City Councilwoman Peggy King.
“Our models are all ages, all sizes,” said Carolyn Montorio, president of the auxiliary.
Despite being outside her usual sartorial comfort zone, Ziobrowski said the fashion show is a rewarding place to break loose each year. “I feel like I’m among friends when I walk the runway,” she said.
She certainly seems to be. Much of the audience is made up of repeat attendees, some representing multiple generations of women in the same family.
“People come from all over the Northeast,” auxiliary member Lois Gullott said of Sunnyview. “They’re well-known in the community, so people are willing to donate.”
The fashion show is much more than a respite from the routine. Ziobrowski said the positive effects of the fashion show, the auxiliary’s biggest yearly fundraiser, are always noticeable at the hospital.
The auxiliary gives about $10,000 to Sunnyview annually. Much of that comes from the $35 admission fee to the fashion show, as well as a silent auction and multiple raffles at the event.
Last year, the group’s donations enabled the purchase of security cameras for the hospital. The previous year, they funded a Dome E machine, which allows technicians to read radiology test results at Sunnyview.
Until then, they had to take results to Ellis or send them out to be interpreted.
The auxiliary’s donations have also bought crucial passive motion machines that exercise patients’ healing joints, and many other important additions to the hospital that otherwise wouldn’t be financially feasible.
The purpose of the Sept. 22 fundraiser was never far from mind, especially as former patient Purcell sat alongside the runway and gave the thumbs-up to the models as they strode by.