Rosalba and Andres Santana were at Memorial Medical Center about nine weeks ago for an appointment when they caught the eye of Mary Francis Mullins, a registered nurse.
The young Ceres couple were awaiting a wheelchair-accessible van that would take them home. The wait was long because the van initially came and left when there was a mix-up over the pickup location.
Mullins observed how tenderly Rosalba cared for Andres, trying to ensure his comfort in his wheelchair. “He was saying ‘You’re beautiful’ to her. I didn’t understand what he was saying until later, but she knew. My heart was breaking.”
In her 37 years as a nurse, Mullins said she’s been moved by a lot of patients and their situations, but something about the Santanas made her approach and engage them. She didn’t know their relationship, and initially thought Andres perhaps was developmentally delayed. But Rosalba explained that on Nov. 20, 2015, her husband suffered a hemorrhagic stroke at the age of 30.
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High blood pressure was the cause. Andres was taking medication for it, but never checked to see if the dosage was doing the job, Rosalba said. “He had no problem taking his medication, he just didn’t like going to see the doctor,” she said. “Men for you.”
Andres was at home with his mother and son, Jaiden, who was not quite 2. He complained of eye pain and, as it worsened, knew something was very wrong. Andres tried to hand his mother the phone to call 911. His eyes had rolled back in their sockets and he was foaming at the mouth, Rosalba said, recalling her mother-in-law’s account of what happened.
When Rosalba arrived at the hospital, Andres was lying on a gurney, just a sheet covering him. His eyes were bulging, she remembered, and she feared he was gone. “The family gathered around and prayed,” she said, “and by the grace of God and his fighting spirit, he showed signs he was fighting.”
The days that followed were “wait and see,” she said. Andres’ blood pressure could not be stabilized, and doctors said surgery likely would kill him.
The stroke affected the pons, which often is referred to as the message center among parts of the brain. It has left Andres largely quadriplegic, with only slight, nonfunctional movement in his limbs, Rosalba said. It’s also greatly affected his ability to talk. On top of that, Andres suffers seizures for reasons still undetermined.
Rosalba’s care for him is around-the-clock, including feeding him a liquid diet through a tube and, to prevent bedsores, changing his position from side to side every two hours as he lies in his adjustable bed during the night.
Andres was receiving in-home physical, occupational and speech therapy, but it stopped a couple of months ago because of a combination of costs, the seizures and his monthlong bout of pneumonia, Rosalba said. Insurance has just approved additional visits, she said, so Andres’ needs and abilities soon will be re-evaluated.
She has reduced her job hours to part time to care for Andres, who was a warehouse worker and forklift driver for Grainger in Patterson. Using a hand-pump hydraulic lift and body sling, she gets him into his wheelchair for three hours in the morning and again for three hours in the afternoon/evening.
Rosalba works with him to build strength and control of his limbs and trunk. Their son Jayden, now 4, also works with his dad. They make a game of Andres trying to kick a soccer ball across the floor to his son.
And in a win-win for father and son, they work together to help Jaiden learn the alphabet and counting. Andres will say letters and numbers for Jaiden to repeat. That helps her husband be an active parent while at the same time practice his speech, Rosalba said.
Ginger Luna, another Memorial RN who’s come to love the Santana family, said that having spent time with Rosalba and Andres, their strength as a couple and as parents is clear. “Jaiden’s interaction with his dad is amazing, and that could only be possible by being fostered by Rosalba,” she said.
Andres and his son are big baseball fans, and Jaiden has reached the age where he’s playing ball himself.
Mullins recalled that when she met the Santanas those nine weeks back while the couple waited for transportation home, “Rosalba said in passing that if they had their own wheelchair-accessible van, she could take Andres to see their little boy play baseball.
“That affected me, it troubled me. When I went home I told my family that I’d met this gentleman who is trapped in a body that is not working anymore.”
Her family challenged her to do something: a restaurant benefit, a car wash, a garage sale, a gofundme.com page. And so Mullins set to work. “I tell their story, spread the word far and wide,” she said, “knowing someone will pray, someone will give to gofundme, someone will share the gofundme, someone will have a great deal on a wheelchair-accessible van..”
Mullins, Luna and her husband, Jack, and another colleague created the “Santana Family Needs a Ride” account on gofundme. Jack Luna also built a wheelchair ramp so Rosalba can get Andres out of the house. Before that, they were dependent on transportation providers that brought their own.
Through fundraising that includes the gofundme page and an upcoming community garage sale in the Pep Boys parking lot on McHenry Avenue, the Santanas’ supporters plan to make Rosalba’s dream van a reality and get some much-needed modifications made to the family’s modest home.
Donations for the garage sale have been pouring in, Mullins said: bedroom sets, hutches, chests, tables and chairs, sofas, mirrors, bicycles, toys, musical instruments, office furniture, baby furniture, clothing and much more.
“We will have a golf table with golf clubs and raffle tickets. There will be many opportunities to win foursome rounds of golf at local country clubs and golf courses,” she said. “Hopefully, that will get the men out there.”
There will be a bake sale and hot dog stand at the event, as well as complete tri-tip dinners for $15. Raffle tickets also will be sold for a seven-night stay in Las Vegas.
And in what the Santanas and their guardian-angel nurses say is a vital part of the event, other nurses will be offering blood-pressure checks and promoting blood-pressure awareness.
Rosalba said she’s trusted God during her family’s ordeal and has told Andres, “Maybe God chose him to help others. That by history, he will be able to help others see what is really important and that if you don’t have your health, what do you have?”
She sat at his side as she shared this. She looked over at him, and he nodded.
The community garage sale is Sept. 22 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1340 McHenry. Tri-tip dinners, which can be paid for in advance or the day of, will be available from 1 to 6 p.m. To donate or learn more, call or text Mullins at 209-345-6002, Ginger Luna at 209-606-3831 or Jack Luna at 209-496-7114.