The Short Life Of Ross Salvo Will Be Remembered Through A Lasting Legacy
UPDATE (Wednesday, January 27, 2021): This feature has been updated to indicate the correct Boy Scout Troop Ross was a member of.
* * * * *
Rossario “Ross” Salvo was a kind-hearted, strong-willed 12-year-old who loved karate. He complimented people whenever possible. He once held the hand of an adult woman he didn’t know, just because she looked like she was having a bad day. He loved telling jokes, and playing with classmates.
When he died two years ago, it was devastating to his parents, his two sisters, and countless others who had been touched during his short life.
Yet Ross’s very positive attitude lives on, thanks to a nickname bestowed by one of his teachers — Rossome, the combination of his name and “awesome” — and the dedication of his parents.
Diane and Pat Salvo are the force behind Ross’s Responders, the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization named for their son that encourages people of all ages to be active in training first responders, volunteering, and show kindness to others.
Its mission, Pat told The Newtown Bee last week, is “to support CPR training programs and increase volunteerism, especially in Newtown. We really want people to take CPR classes, and we want to improve pre-hospital care and promote volunteerism.”
Ross’s Responders recently took its first big step toward that mission. Earlier this month, 13 refurbished automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) were donated to Newtown Police Department by the project.
For the Salvos, the donation of the medical equipment is their way of keeping their son’s memory alive while extending the life of someone else .
'The Mayor Of Head O’ Meadow'
Ross Salvo was born on March 6, 2006, at Norwalk Hospital. He and his twin sister, Chrissy, were both premature births, Diane and Pat Salvo said recently.
“Ross had a brain bleed at birth. He wasn’t expected to live,” Pat said. “They came to us and said ‘He has survived, but he has heart problems.’”
Ross was transferred from Norwalk to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he had heart surgery and, eventually, three brain surgeries. His parents were told that he had a one percent chance of survival, and that if he did not die, he would be institutionalized.
“Clearly, that did not happen,” Pat said.
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Ross’s biggest hurdle, according to his parents, were his legs.
“He was one of the smartest people you’d ever know,” Pat said. “His challenge was with his legs. He had some issues with that, but through all of it, he never saw himself as being handicapped.
“One time in preschool one child asked him — not to be mean — what was wrong with Ross’s legs. Ross told him ‘Nothing. They’re just different.’
“He always looked for ways to be kind to people. He always wanted to help people. He never, ever wanted to give up,” his father continued. “I have always said and truly believe that Ross was not a boy with special needs but a boy with special gifts that he gave out willingly and with love.”
Diane said her son had another nickname, “The Mayor of Head O’ Meadow.”
“He knew everybody and chatted with everybody, and that really continued to Reed School,” she said. “We’re still finding out about people he touched.”
Ross took kung fu classes at Shaolin Studio, and insisted that he take the same test as the other students. Before he died, he earned his second degree brown belt.
Ross’s mother calls her late son her hero.
“I remember he wanted to be a member of the garden club at Reed School,” she said. “I thought ‘How and I going to get him there, and get him home?’ I was working, but he wanted to do this, and we figured it out.
“Human nature, I know, is often ‘We can’t do this,’ but with him it was always ‘How can we do this?’” Diane said. Following meetings with teachers, Ross indeed became a member of that garden club. He was also a member of Cub Scouts, and the Boy Scout Troop 770. He sang in the chorus at Reed School, and played in the Parks & Recreation Hoopsters Adaptive Basketball Program.
“Working with all the teachers at the school, they all wanted him to succeed,” Diane said. “So it was a partnership with us, and the schools, always figuring how to do things for him.”
Diane noted that even with physical therapists and occupational therapists, “it was always ‘How do we do this?’ figuring out how to make things happen
Ross was given the nickname “Rossome” by his fifth grade teacher. It was perfect for the boy who thought “there really wasn’t anything he felt he couldn’t do,” according to his mother.
Among Ross’s life goals was to become a paramedic like his father. Diane is an EMT. Both are volunteers with Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Ross was trained in CPR, and often helped his parents when they taught classes, they said.
“There was one time with students using EpiPens, and Ross tried to show one student how to use the pen and I had to stop him,” Pat said. “It was during a test, but even then, he couldn’t let someone fail.”
‘We Gave Him A Chance’
The morning of June 11, 2018, Diane and Pat Salvo went into their son’s room and found him unconscious. Both performed CPR, to no avail. The first people to arrive at their home after they called 911 were police officers.
“That’s when we found out they don’t carry AEDs,” Pat said. An AED was not available, he said, until firefighters and an ambulance crew arrived at their home.
The Salvos both agree they do not know if having one of those machines at their home sooner that morning would have saved their son’s life. What they do agree on is every family should have a chance at that kind of care.
“If we didn’t know CPR, if we weren’t trained, we would have just been standing there, looking at a dead child,” Pat said. “Because of our training, we gave him a chance.”
Ross was transported to Danbury Hospital, but did not survive. His funeral Mass at St Rose of Lima Church was standing room only for the former altar boy, his mother said.
The Salvos met through Westport EMS, so members of that first responder team attended Ross’s funeral. So did firefighters from multiple towns, as well as Connecticut State Police representatives, according to Ross’s parents.
All three priests at St Rose spoke and/or sang during the Mass, Diane said. Even a priest from the town in Pennsylvania that Diane comes from traveled to Newtown to give a homily.
“People from my company flew in from across the country for him, to support us,” Diane said.
The chief technology officer for the company Pat works for was at the funeral, as well.
“You would have thought it was the governor, from the crowd,” Diane said.
As they walked from the Monsignor Weiss Gathering Hall toward the church building the morning of Ross’s funeral, the family — which includes Ross and Chrissy’s older sister, Beth Salvo O’Connell — was greeted with a sea of support.
“I have never seen such an honor guard,” Pat said, his voice breaking. “The number of firemen, police, and EMS departments that was there, it was amazing.”
“To this day, Ross still influences people,” he continued. “I picked up a patient one time, about a year or two ago, and he recognized my last name and he asked about my son.”
Ross’s memory will live on for a long time at Reed School. Seventeen months after his death, his family was invited to a Buddy Bench dedication ceremony. The park-style bench was placed in the main lobby of the grade 5-6 school, with the words In Loving Memory Of Ross Salvo “Always Be Rossome” carved into its back slats.
The bench, RIS sixth grade language teacher Julie Shull told the crowd that gathered on November 26, 2019, was put in place for those who need a friend and those who can be a friend to someone in need. It is meant, she said, to “symbolize all that he stood for: friendship, positivity, community.”
As mentioned, Ross’s Responders recently donated 13 AEDs to Newtown Police Department.
Among those who spearheaded the effort was Dr Robert K. Bazuro. A friend of the Salvos and a fellow Newtown resident, Bazuro is also a member of Danbury Hospital Emergency Department.
Dr Bazuro was also the assistant scoutmaster of Troop 70, of which Ross was a member.
“He always had a special place in my heart,” Dr Bazuro said January 12. “I knew him for years. I was there when he died. It was after that that we saw the need for AEDs.”
The group met with Newtown Police Chief James Viadero, “and he let us run with this,” according to Bazuro.
Obtaining AEDs is more than going out and purchasing them, Bazuro explained. For one thing, the state must be petitioned with a certificate of need.
Newtown resident Blair Balmforth, Danbury Hospital’s Regional EMS coordinator and manager of emergency management, was one of the next people Bazuro contacted. Balmforth “was pivotal in navigating” the process, according to Bazuro.
Ross’s Responders worked through the Danbury Hospital & New Milford Hospital Foundation to obtain funding.
“We were able to obtain over $27,000 from local community donations for this project,” Bazuro said. That was the money used to purchase enough AEDs to place in each Newtown Police Department patrol car and supervisor’s cars, he added.
According to Newtown Police Department Administrative Sergeant Jeff Silver, Newtown’s police officers have been trained for several years on the use of AEDs, which can be found in most municipal buildings and many businesses. The town’s police officers are also trained as emergency medical responders who can render basic first aid and assist EMTs on calls for service.
The donation of the AED equipment further enhances that training.
“These are the first AEDs that the department has had available for the patrol officers to take on the road with them,” Silver told The Newtown Bee. “Historically our fire department and EMS personnel have had access to these portable devices, and thankfully now the officers will, as well.
“Officers are on the road 24/7 and having this life saving piece of equipment readily available is a great benefit to the town.”
Not all the funds secured by Ross’s Responders have been spent.
“There is also money left over to make sure that these units will be properly supplied and maintained for years to come,” Bazuro said last week.
“There are a lot of people to thank, and we all did this for Ross,” he added. “I’m hoping that it’s something that will help to remember him.”