In 2004, on the day before Father's Day, Ron Sarfaty collapsed at Disneyland after suffering a massive stroke. Subsequently paralyzed on his left side and confined to a wheelchair, he was forced to give up his career as a military prototype developer. It took him two years to re-learn how to drive. Making things worse, on March 23 of this year, his van was totaled in an accident.
After his stroke, he began investing much of his time and energy into recording audio and video recordings for local musicians performing at house parties and venues around town. It was a hobby he had enjoyed since 1998, but with his newfound medical condition, Sarfaty's amateur videography work became less a hobby and more a way for him to engage with the local music community. He found that this work gave him a sense of purpose; the musicians he was working with found that Sarfaty's professional quality videos helped them to boost their visibility.
Sarfaty became known as the “wheechair videographer” and in the years since his stroke has shot and edited more then 500 videos for artists including pianist Mike Garson, violinist Drew Tretick, Grammy award winner Wendy Waldman and jazz singer Nnenna Freelon. He pays for all equipment and costs out of pocket and doesn't charge for his services.
“It keeps me busy and out of trouble and allows me to use my creative talent,” Sarfaty says. “A lot of the performers I've done these videos for have gotten gigs and even tours from my work. That's my satisfaction, knowing I can help these people. It's my therapy.”
On March 23, however, Sarfaty's freedom to roam was again compromised when he was involved in an accident on Victory Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. He was driving his customized van, a 1995 Chevy Astro with 250,000 miles on it, when he rear ended a car stopped at a green light. The vehicle Sarfaty had spent thousands of dollars on customizing was totaled.
“The insurance companies don't understand what a creation a wheelchair accessible van is,” Sarfaty says. “They offered me $2,470 for it. To get anything that would be a reasonable piece of transportation would be at least $30,000.”
A video Sarfaty shot and produced
Not content to let Sarfaty sit at home and twiddle his thumbs, his musical compatriots have organized a benefit on his behalf. The concert event will be held on Sunday from 7-11 pm at The Talking Stick Coffee Lounge in Venice.
Performers will include emcee John Zipperer, Lauren Adams, Severin Browne, Fur Dixon, Susie Glaze, Jeff Gold, Earl Grey & Lisa Johnson and more. The goal is to raise enough money to purchase Sarfaty a used van and the adaptive equipment required for him to drive it.
In the meantime, Sarfaty has little means for transporting himself, and has filmed only a handful of shows since the accident. “Not having the independence now,” he says, “is emotionally the hardest part for me.”
Still, Sarfaty finds the 4,600 person guest list on the benefit's Facebook page encouraging. “I guess,” he says, “I made a lot more friends than I thought.”
Donations can be made online at Sarfaty's benefit website.