On the Border

By December 30, 2014Travel

“So, Jack, is it safe?” I asked my brother.

“Yes,”he answered. I detected a bit of annoyance in his voice. It wasn’t the first time I had posed the question.

When Ariela was alive, I would never have considered risky activities. But without her, what have I got to lose?

I had been to Juarez, maybe twenty-five years ago, before anyone heard about drug wars. I went to see a tiny pediatric orthopedic clinic where my brother was volunteering. Back then, FEMAP’s Hospital de la Familia was a two-story building with about six beds all in one ward, closet sized rooms where Jack saw his patients, a small pharmacy, and little else. In spite of drug wars and ever-present poverty, the little hospital that could is now four stories, 110 beds, an OR (operating room), a NICU (Neo-natal intensive care), X-ray, and a nursing school. And, in the past three decades, my brother has crossed the border every month and treated over 7,500 children.

Anna, the executive director, gave us a tour. “Some of our equipment may be outdated, especially by U.S. standards.” This is a hospital for people living in poverty. Patients and families pay on a sliding scale. FEMAP started with family planning and women’s and children’s healthcare. Today, their programs provide healthcare, education, mobile medical units, nutritional counseling, and even microloans.

About a month ago, I sent Ariela’s medical equipment and supplies to FEMAP. Pulse oximeters and nebulizers and enteral feeding bags and C-PAP machines and therapy balls and medications, opened and unopened, that I don’t want to remember. Plus boxes of braces and orthotics from two orthotists, John Allen and Joe Muller, who wanted to help.

“Everything you sent is being put to good use,” my brother said.

“And the wheelchair? Is it here, at the hospital?” I admit to wanting to keep her chair. Her essence was in that chair. She traveled everywhere in it, out of the house and out of the country. The seat and back were custom molded to fit her frame. Paint splatters covered the arms. It had been recently repaired. Good as new. Looking at it kept her close to me.

Jack hesitated.

Rosy, our friend and a school administrator in New Mexico, nodded. “It went to a girl in my school district who is from Central America. She can go to school, but because she is undocumented, she doesn’t qualify for Medicaid. She can’t get a wheelchair. When the mother saw Ariela’s beautiful chair, she wept.”

I don’t know anything about the girl who has Ariela’s wheelchair. I can’t imagine the great risks that mother took to bring her child into the U.S. and the risks she lives with every day. Her child deserves a nice chair.

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