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‘And the greatest of these is love’

By Monte Mace

The Leaven
Archdiocese of Kansas City, KS

October 20, 2006 

OVERLAND PARK — For fifty-two years, Ted and Herminia Reyes have cared for their son like a baby.

That’s because Ricky, who is now a middle-aged man, has been bedridden his entire life.

Born with developmental disabilities, Ricky has the mind of a two-month-old.

He can’t talk to his parents. He isn’t able to get out of bed by himself. Ted and Herminia must bathe, shave and feed him.

But none of that has diminished the Reyes’ love for their son, which seems to have only grown over the years.

It is fueled by a steadfastness of faith that most of us can only envy — their pastor included.

The Reyeses, says Holy Spirit, Overland Park,  pastor Father Harry Schneider, are nothing short of “heroes.”

Father Schneider visits the Reyes’ home several times a year to anoint Ricky and to pray with him and the family.

He always leaves, he said, feeling humbled and even a little ashamed.  

“I always come away thinking, ‘You think you’re doing so much. But you’re not doing anything,’” said Father Schneider. “I feel very humble next to them.”

When Ricky was born in 1954, doctors told the parents that their son would be a vegetable. It had been a difficult delivery, requiring a Caesarean section that almost cost Herminia her own life.

Ricky’s disabilities were severe, and he was blind as well. Doctors predicted he would never walk or talk, and would be bedridden for the rest of his life.

Faced with such a burden, many couples would have chosen to have Ricky placed in an institution where trained medical people could care for him.

But Ted and Herminia wouldn’t hear of it.

“I said, ‘Uh-uh,’” Herminia recalled. “‘My son isn’t going to be a vegetable.’”

So they brought their baby home and set to work. With the help of a tricycle whose pedals they turned by hand, they exercised his legs, keeping them from atrophying.

When at the age of eight months, Ricky said his first word — “Mama,” on Mother’s Day, no less —the Reyeses felt vindicated. It was the first glimpse of a brighter future than the original diagnosis had held out.

But hopes for that brighter future were dashed — forever — when the brain surgery that the doctors recommended when Ricky was about nine months old was unsuccessful.

 “After the surgery, he didn’t do much any more,” said Herminia simply.

And there, the Reyes’ story really begins.

For with hope torn from them, only faith — and love — remained.

Love endures

Fifty-one years have passed since that Mother’s Day on which Ricky spoke his one and only word.

Today, Ricky is a middle-aged man with graying hair and a mustache.

Every day, his father bathes him with a sponge, then rubs lotion onto his legs. Ted is also the one who usually spoon feeds Ricky each of his meals — normally baby food, but occasionally his favorite dish: scrambled eggs with butter.

Ricky passes his days and nights in a hospital bed in a bright, clean bedroom of the Reyes ’ Overland Park home.  Toy cars form a semicircle on the floor. Religious statues and holy cards occupy a corner of the room, and a white photo album of old, black-and-white photographs mark the various milestones in Ricky ’s life.

At Christmas, Herminia decorates a full-sized, separate tree to brighten Ricky’s room, because “he needs a special tree,” she said.

Ted attends the 9 a.m. Mass on Sundays; Herminia, the noon. The two take turns so as not to leave Ricky alone, although on special occasions like Christmas or Easter, they hire an attendant so they can attend Mass together.

About twice a month, a seizure will grip Ricky, and his parents have to hold their son down to keep him from injuring himself. Once, a seizure that must have occurred in the middle of the night resulted in a broken femur, and an emergency trip to the hospital the next morning for treatment.

Ricky doesn’t sleep much at night, which means Herminia doesn’t either.

Despite rarely getting more than four or five hours a sleep at night, she brushes off the surprise or concern of others.

“That’s enough sleep,” she insists.

Although Herminia has always stayed home with Ricky, Ted worked as a repair and maintenance man at the General Motors Leeds plant until his retirement after 38 years.

Even after he retired, Ted painted houses in order to provide Ricky with the best home care possible. When he found a used hospital bed for sale, Ted painted the man ’s house in exchange for the bed.

It was only recently that the Reyeses sought government aid to help with Ricky’s care — and that was only at the urging of a doctor. Now a check of $75 a month supplements Ted ’s retirement income.

Blessing, not a burden

The Reyeses, now in their late 70s, show no signs of tiring of their demanding routine, nor is their faith flagging.

In fact, it is only trust in God, said Herminia, that has sustained her through the many years of caring for Ricky —   and other tragedies as well. She and Ted lost the son born after Ricky only a few hours after his birth. Their third-born and only daughter, Theresa, died at the age of 20 of hepatitis.

“Faith has carried me through,” Herminia said. “I say a rosary every day. If I feel the world is closing in on me, I say a prayer and I feel OK again.”

The couple draws support and relief from their two other sons, Ted Jr. and Joe. Both are married with children and homes of their own, but visit their parents often and help with Ricky, just as they did when they were growing up.

Despite the occasional fights that he and his brother Joe would get into when other kids made fun of Ricky, said Ted Jr., he feels no sort of resentment over the unique cross his family has been asked to carry. Joe agreed.

 “Some people say it must be a burden,” said Joe. “No. It’s been a blessing.”

The two men need look no further than their parents for a true witness to their Catholic faith.  

“They’ve been the best models for us,” said Ted Jr. “They gave up their lives so we could succeed. Faith really does work. Our parents accepted what God gave them.”

Ted and Herminia don’t pretend that it’s been easy. The situation strained their marriage of 56 years, and Ted readily admits that it ’s Herminia’s love and faith that’s kept them together.

It has also bound the family in ways that many parents only dream of. The extended family gathers frequently for Mass, meals and special occasions, and its members are openly affectionate and supportive of each other.

Herminia will take no credit for this very special family, born of her indefatigable love.

“The Lord has been good to us,” she says sincerely.

Ted concurs.

“When I look around, there are plenty of other people who are worse off than we are,” he said.

But he advises other families — with or without disabled children — to appreciate what they have.

“You shouldn’t take everything for granted,” he said. “Life is not going to be like you think it should be.”

 

 

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