The #CiaiCoraggio Movement

The road to dignity

Daniel Hernandez Lyon
November 2, 2017 - 15:25

On a routine morning like any other, born and bred Florentine Claudio Ciai teased his son Francesco about his curly hair before setting off for work. Running out the door with a quick “a dopo”, neither one could have ever imagined that their lives were about to be turned upside-down. A few moments later, Claudio was on his way to a meeting when highway traffic slowed and a semi-truck driver, distracted, plummeted into Claudio’s company car.


Claudio survived the accident but not as Francesco had hoped. He remained paralyzed and lost all cognitive use. But being in this heartbreaking state marked just the beginning of a series of mind-boggling adversities the Ciai family would face for years.


An Italy-wide lack of readiness for providing assistance for cases like Claudio’s led to months of losing valuable recovery time as Francesco and his family navigated a tangled bureaucratic web. These included things like figuring out points of contacts at the different government entities, understanding patient’s rights, and even simply—but most importantly—which recovery facilities, doctors and treatments were best suited for Claudio’s needs. Over the course of three years’ rehabilitation at specialized centers in Italy and Austria, Claudio regained very basic cognitive use, but was ultimately trapped in his own body with practically zero mobility. Meanwhile, the company he had worked with for 20 years deemed his sick leave over, removing him from the payroll and related benefits. Adding insult to injury, once it was time to return home, Francesco’s neighbors objected to the addition of an external platform to allow Claudio to enter and exit his apartment in his hospital bed, even though all necessary permits were in order. All this was followed by issues with insurance companies, corrupt lawyers, and even the driver of the truck who never received any consequences as a result of his actions. During the final year of his life, Claudio was never able to return home and he passed away on March 19, 2014, cruelly both Francesco’s birthday and Father’s Day.


But Francesco, his friends and family were determined that Claudio’s story wouldn’t end there. They breathed life into the Fondazione Claudio Ciai, a non-profit organization that provides assistance and ongoing support for victims suffering brain injuries or permanent disabilities as a result of accidents on the road.


Kicking off in 2014 with #CiaiCoraggio, a social media awareness campaign on Facebook and Instagram that became a viral sensation, the organization has since organized numerous fundraising events, educational seminars, artistic and sporting partnerships, along with other programs to help its mission.



Francesco Ciai at the presentation of his book La Strada della Dignità: Il Movimento #CiaiCoraggio



In 2017, Francesco decided to channel his efforts into writing a book not only to tell his father’s story but more importantly for the first time in Italian history to create a step-by-step manual for families going through similar situations. La Strada della Dignità: Il Movimento #CiaiCoraggio was unveiled last month at Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio at an official presentation in the presence of government officials. The book is now available on the Foundation’s website with all proceeds benefiting the organization. (The book is also being distributed free of charge at all hospitals and high schools throughout Tuscany.)


Francesco also published a totally different book, Paco & Camelia: The Venus’ Mystery & Other Secrets, which he began writing during his long hours in hospital waiting rooms with his father. To help entertain his little cousins, it tells the story of a group of adorable pets who embark on whimsical adventures around Florence, discovering the city’s rich history and secrets. Available both in Italian and English, a portion of the proceeds supports children victims of car accidents via the Foundation.


As an expat helping to lead the organization, I initially hesitated from focusing part of my new Italian life on such hard-hitting issues. However, realization quickly dawned that such an involvement enriches your life with positive experiences, insights and understanding into the complexities of Italian social issues, and even has forged lifelong friendships. Taking Claudio and Francesco’s story as inspiration, our community should look beyond the surface and become sensitive to important issues that affect those around us on a daily basis. It is up to us to roll up our sleeves and help make our adoptive country a better place to live.

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