For years, the coming of winter meant bracing for a water shortage at the Ramirez household in south suburban Blue Island.
“The pipes in the kitchen would freeze, so we’d get water from the bathroom and bring it in here to do our dishes,” said Elyana Ramirez, 30, who lives in the two-bedroom home with her parents and 8-year-old son, Diego. “It was hard.”
Frozen pipes, inaccessible entryways, uneven floors, leaky windows and doors will soon be just a memory for the Ramirez family. Facilities Services chose the Ramirez family as our partner for our fourth year as a sponsor with Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago, a volunteer organization preserving and revitalizing metro Chicago’s low-income homes and communities.
“We are so excited. There’s a lot that needs to be done,” Elyana said in March when FS skilled trades employees visited the family. “Seeing them here…it’s like a dream. It doesn’t feel real.”
A wide variety of home repairs will be made at the Ramirez’s home, with a focus on upgrading the home to more easily accommodate Diego and his grandfather Rogelio, who both rely on wheelchairs for mobility. While the family has lived in the home for 28 years, in recent years both Diego and Rogelio lost mobility and the home is no longer functional.
There were no handrails in the home. Clutter prevents free movement. A mix of carpet and other flooring creates a kind of obstacle course, requiring Elyana to lift or lower her father or son in their wheelchairs multiple times to travel from one room to another. A foyer with a sunken floor had doors that opened into other doorways, making even entering the home a challenge, Elyana said.
A high fever at five-months-old ravaged Diego’s tiny body and left him with congenital neurological impairment. He lacks neck control and is unable to walk or talk. He never cries, so Elyana has learned over the years to watch for other signs, sometimes a tear, to understand when Diego is feeling pain.
Although he can’t speak, Diego communicates with his family in other ways. When he wants to watch cartoons, he rolls himself in front of the T.V. When he’s hungry, he rolls his wheelchair in the kitchen and stares at the stove, which had only one working burner. (FS is replacing the stove and the microwave at the home.)
Elyana is trained to administer intravenous diazepam when Diego has seizures. Sometimes, the seizures leave Diego too weak to attend school, but when he’s well, a bus picks up the second-grader and takes him to school in Midlothian.
While learning to cope with her son’s disability, Elyana moved back in with her parents and shortly thereafter, during a liver and kidney transplant operation, Mr. Ramirez suffered a stroke that affected the right side of his body. He has also battled diabetes, endured brain surgery and recently was hospitalized for hip surgery.
“We’ve lost count of how many things he’s had,” Elyana said. She admits that caring for both her son and her dad is a lot of work and running even the smallest of errands can be challenging when having to load two disabled individuals and two wheelchairs into her Jeep.
Both Elyana and her mother, Alma, who only speaks Spanish, have become emotional when they speak of their challenges and the difference FS is making in their lives. The loving family does not dwell on their setbacks, and they are overjoyed to have a more comfortable space to spend time together.
With such significant structural and accessibility work going on, Elyana said one small item would make a big difference.
“The doorbell. It’s not a priority, but it’d be really nice,” she said. “Especially because we want everyone to come over and see all the changes.”
-- By Amy Lee and Tiffany Grant