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Works of Mercy: Casa Juan Diego Volunteers Help Paralyzed Immigrants

A neighbor brought Carmen (not her real name) to Casa Juan Diego. She was distraught. Her husband had had an aneuyrism and had spent two months in the hospital. They are from Guatemala and have no family here to help them. Carmen hoped that she could place her husband somewhere and that she could go to work to help out and eventually be able to take him back home to Guatemala. At the moment, she did not have a job. Her husband had worked many years in Houston and supported them. She said he was paralyzed now, has a tracheotomy, and cannot speak or move on his own. A part of his skull was removed because of the concern for swelling of the brain. He was still in the hospital.

We explained that nursing homes are very expensive and there is no disability for immigrants, even if they have worked here for many years.

Carmen was about to be evicted because she could not pay the rent. We said Casa Juan Diego could help. We would assist with the rent and food if she could care for him.

Soon the hospital social worker called. We pledged to help the family.

When Mr. Garcia (not his real name) arrived home, Carmen was frightened. She did not know how to care for him. She had no adult diapers for him and little food. He was bed bound.

We immediately called the CHRISTUS Visiting Nurses who help us through the Sisters of Charity. The nurse visited and took needed supplies for the feeding tube and tracheotomy and gave instructions to help Carmen with his care.

We were talking about the needs of this couple at lunch one day with fellow Catholic Workers and volunteers. Marie Herbinet, who comes two days a week to work with the children, offered to help, and two of the women guests of Casa Juan Diego, those who do not have children, also were willing to help.

This small group of volunteers took diapers and food, cleaning materials, and toiletries to the family. They discovered that Mr. Garcia was in great pain and did not have pain medication. He was shouting and actually screaming with the pain, flailing around as much as he could with one arm.

Fortunately, the volunteer brain injury rehabilitation specialist and the team which includes therapists, were able to visit the home, prescribe pain medication and a blood pressure machine so that Mr. Garcia’s blood pressure could be monitored. Marie went to the pharmacy to pick up the medication for pain and deliver it to the family.

Another problem has been getting Carmen to her appointments for her diabetes. She missed the first appointment after her husband arrived home because she could not leave him alone to go to a clinic.On the second visit, Marie and the other volunteers stayed with Mr. Garcia while Carmen went to her appointment for her diabetes. Again, Marie picked up the medicine and took it to Carmen.

In the midst of this, the feeding tube came out and Mr. Garcia had to go to the hospital to have it put back in. The paramedics refused to take him to Ben Taub, but instead took him to a private hospital closer to their home.

Desperately Seeking People to Help

What turned out to be rather a major event for the volunteers occurred when Mr. Garcia had his first clinic appointment at the Hospital District two months after being discharged from the hospital. This was hopeful, but, how to get him there? When he went to the hospital, he was taken in an ambulance, but now?

Casa Juan Diego provided a regular manual wheel chair, donated to the house. It had no support for his head, but it was all we had. So Marie and a guest of the house left with the wheel chair to try to take Mr. Garcia to the clinic. They hoped that three women (including Carmen, who is small) would be able to get him from the bed to the wheel chair. The plan was that his wife would walk beside him and help to support his head.

They could not do it. They could not carry him.

Carmen asked the maintenance man at the apartments for help. He asked the assistance of two men who lifted Mr. Garcia from the bed into the wheel chair and then, with difficulty, into the car.

When the small band got to the clinic, they could not get Mr. Garcia out. The security guard sought the help of two men at the clinic. They were able to get him into the wheel chair and into the clinic.

The clinic doctor was surprised that the appointment was so late after the hospitalization, but was able to arrange new appointments to see a social worker and for occupational and physical therapy. Mr. Garcia was very uncomfortable sitting in the simple wheel chair for a couple of hours and began to loudly complain (he cannot speak, but cried out).

Now the problem was, how to get him into the car. This process required two more men, who were located at the clinic. Then again, at the apartment, two more men were needed to get him back to the apartment and his bed.

We are very grateful to the eight men, unknown to us, who helped in this process..

Feeding Tube Out – Now what?

Mr. Garcia’s feeding tube came out again and he was again taken to the private hospital near the apartments.

This time apparently the private hospital was tired of taking care of Mr. Garcia. They replaced the feeding tube, but then they called Carmen and suggested that they begin to refuse treatment and that she should consider allowing him to die. They had had an evaluation at the hospital and made this recommendation. Carmen said, “No! He is very responsive and alert and I could not do such a thing. Why don’t you ask him, though, because if he says he wants to die, I will not be able to do anything.” At the hospital, they asked Mr. Garcia, and he, in the ways he can communicate, emphatically said no, he did not want to die.

We were shocked.

Carmen asked for the nurse to visit right away. She was terrified that the hospital might have sent some medication that would hasten his death, even after those conversations.


Casa Juan Diego supports many people in the community who have only one caregiver. These families often do not have anyone to help them in the home and can use assistance from people who care. We are hoping to develop a team of volunteers who can visit the homes and be with a patient a morning, an afternoon, or a day so that the caregiver can go to the doctor or just have a little time off. If you can help, call us at 713 869-7376.

Casa Juan Diego also needs wheel chairs and adult diapers to assist the sick and injured.
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXI, No. 2, March-April, 2011.