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Flash mob surprises boy with Duchenne muscular dystrophy on his birthday

A flash mob organized by Flash Mob of America surprised Javier Romero, 10, of Stony Brook, who has muscular dystrophy, with song and dance at a Lake Grove shopping center for his 10th birthday on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 (Credit: Newsday / Amy Onorato)

It seemed like a regular Saturday at the Regency Centers-Lake Grove Commons shopping mall. But just after 4 p.m., the parking lot became a stage for a flash mob birthday surprise for four magical minutes in honor of Javier Romero, a boy with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Javier, of Stony Brook, celebrated his 10th birthday on Aug. 8. His parents, Jen Portnoy and Rich Romero, wanted to commemorate the milestone year with an extra-special event.

Knowing their son’s interest in flash mobs, the couple decided they wanted to throw one of their own, and reached out to California-based Flash Mob America, along with Lake Grove Commons, for help.

“Javier loves to watch videos of flash mobs on the computer -- it was something I never really knew about him until this year,” Portnoy said. “Going into double digits is a big deal for Javier, and we wanted to do something big for it.”

The family raised awareness for the event through their nonprofit Hope for Javier, which raises money for Duchenne research.

Romero was diagnosed with Duchenne in 2007, when he was age 3. The illness, which typically strikes children at a young age, causes muscle degeneration over time. There is currently no cure.

About 85 people participated in the dance, which was set to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” a tune specifically chosen for the sentimental chord it strikes in the hearts of Portnoy and Romero.

“ ‘Firework’ is one of the last songs Javier ever danced to before losing the ability to use his legs,” Portnoy said. “It was one of his favorites to move to.”

Participants had a little over a month to learn the dance, which was produced and choreographed by Flash Mob America. The group learned the dance on their own, only practicing together once at a dress rehearsal held three hours before the event at the Holiday Inn Express in Stony Brook.

After the event was over, Lake Grove Commons property manager Linda Epting presented Portnoy and Romero with a $2,500 donation to Hope for Javier -- a gift that was complete surprise to the couple.

Epting played an integral role in allowing the event to happen at Lake Grove Commons -- a task she had particular investment in. Only a month before, Epting’s best friend lost her son to Duchenne’s.

“It was a strange happenstance when they reached out to us,” Epting said. “We don’t usually do things like this, but when the company heard about what they were doing, and this little boy’s story, we were really on board.”

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