Celebrating Geral's 13th birthday
First day of fifth grade
Geral with his 2-year-old brother Brian
Backstage with pop superstar Ozuna
Geral with his mom, Maria
Greral at home in Nicaragua
Geral's first time in snow
Geral in Long Beach, California
Geral in Long Beach, California
Proceeds from all items sold on this site will be earmarked for Geral's medical needs and education. (You can also make a direct, tax-deductible donation to Geral's Fund following the link at the end of this story.) Thank you! [Geral's Photo Galleries]
Janelle and I met Geral, who was born with spina bifida, and his mom in early 2012 while participating in what would be the first of several medical aid trips and a temporary move to the impoverished Rio San Juan region of southern Nicaragua. Geral lives with his mom and extended family in the small, remote village of Buena Vista. Spina bifida is a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth. Normally, during the first month of a pregnancy, the two sides of the spine (or backbone) join together to cover the spinal cord, spinal nerves and meninges (the tissues covering the spinal cord). Spina bifida refers to any birth defect involving incomplete closure of the spine. (Read more)
Just prior to our 2nd aid trip in January 2013, Janelle learned that the application she submitted to Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital had been accepted. The hospital accepted a limited number of foreign patients into their surgery program annually. We flew Geral and his mother, Maria, to Los Angeles on May 26, 2013 and they remained there until Nov. 3, 2013. Our friends Armando and Margarita (a Nicaraguan), along with their chldren Brian and Michelle, hosted them in their Torrance apartment for the first four months. They lived with us in Long Beach for the rest of their stay. Through the generosity of family, friends, co-workers and strangers, we raised some money to help us cover the transportation and living expenses while they were in SoCal.
While in the States, Geral was treated for his club feet at LA Orthopaedic Hospital under the care of Dr. Zionts who employed the Ponsetti Method. For about four months, he was fit with thigh-high casts on both legs, then underwent foot surgery on July 30. After some more time in casts, and the setback of a broken right tibia, Geral was then fitted with braces and began physical therapy. By the time he left L.A. and for the first time in his young life, he was able to stand and walk using walkers. On July 20, he also underwent surgery for Ptosis (drooping eyelid), performed by Dr. Kenneth Wright at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The surgery was arranged and paid for by Mending Kids International as part of their Hometwon Missions program.
Geral and his mom returned to Nicaragua on Nov. 3, 2013. They rented space in a home in the town of San Carlos (about three hours by bus from their village of Buena Vista) so that Geral had access to physical therapy and other medical treatment at the local hospital. He received therapy several days a week and also was tutored in reading and writing. Maria and Geral returned to the U.S. on Feb. 10, 2014. He received a new walker from Children's Orthopaedic Hospital of L.A. and for the first time in his life was able to move around independently (although with a watchful eye). We also consulted urologists in L.A. and Managua to see what could be done to improve Geral's quality of life. Because he lives so far from a major hospital, any treatment in that regard would be too risky at present. Another priority is for Geral to undergo spine surgery to correct his severe scoliosis. It was best to wait until he grew because of his small midsection. We brought Geral and his mom back to the Rio San Juan on Apr. 1, 2014.
On July 30, we celebrated Geral's eighth birthday with the family and about 25 guets at their home. We all returned to the U.S. in Aug. 2014 for Geral's next round of treatment . While in L.A. he received a new prescription for his eyeglasses, much needed dental treatment and urological care and guidance, that allowed him to use a toilet for the first time in his 8-year life. He also was seen by neurosurgeons and spine specialists. While Geral has received incredible care from premiere institutions and doctors in Los Anegles, being accepted into the children's program at Shriner's Hospital for long-term treatment was a major accomplishment.
In February 2015, Geral began attending school for the first time in his home village of Buena Vista. Although 8-years-old, he was enrolled in first grade where he accompanied by one of his cousins. Because of the private tutoring he received while in the States, the teacher says Geral is the smartest student in the class and she gives him more challenging homework assignments. Geral is treated warmly by the staff and the other students. Educating Geral is a major priority. Janelle and I visited Geral and his family for a few days in February 2015 during our fourth orthopaedic mission. We returned in July to celebrate his 9th birthday with his family in what has become an annual tradition.
Geral and his mom made their fourth visit to the States from November 2015 - February 2016. It was their first Christmas and New Year in America and the colder whether was a shock to their systems. However, thanks to help from Global Mobility based in the San Fernando Valley, Geral got a customized wheelchair. He also received new leg braces, a new walker and new eyeglasses. We escorted them back home in February 2016 for the start of 2nd grade. The school year ended in November and he continued to do quite well. He hopes to be a doctor.
Beginning in July 2016, Janelle and I began an extended period of time with Geral, deciding to to rent a house in the village of Laureano Mareina (outside Boca de Sabalos) in Nicaragua. It takes about 30-45 minutes by car to get to Geral’s house in Buena Vista and we spend as much time with him and his family as possible. We brought Geral to California in March 2017 for medical check-ups…it was the first time he went to the U.S. without his mom who was unable to travel because she was pregnant. On Aug. 15, 2017, Geral’s baby brother, Brian Nicholas, was born. Our extended time living near Geral ended Oct. 1, 2017.
Shortly thereafter, I returned to Managua to accompany Geral and his mom back to California for their fifth visit. Geral underwent successful spinal cord surgery (tethered cord release) on Dec. 1, 2017. The surgery was performed at Hospital Angeles in Tijuana, Mexico by Dr. Marco Enrique Munoz Lopez, pediatric neurosurgeon with Shriner’s Hospital. Most importantly, this surgery will avert future neurological problems but it also might provide other immediate collateral benefits. We brought Geral and mom back home on Jan. 19, 2018 and Geral began the 4th grade in February. Geral made two more visits to California in 2018, both withou his mom who was caring for Geral’s baby brother. The first trip was unplanned - a result of unforseen political turmoil in Nicaragua. We felt it was best for Geral to leave the country until the political angst stabilized. He was in Long Beach for 2 1/2 months and spent time with a private tutor since he was mssing school. But when school let out in November, Geral returned to the States for his summer vacation and was again here for 2 1/2 months.
On Feb. 4, 2019, Geral entered the 5th grade. We celebrated Geral’s 13th birthday with him and his family in Nicaragua in July, 2019. Geral has made incredible progress physically, emotionally and scholastically. He’s even picked up some basic English and one of his favorite phrases is “mission accomplished.” And while he indeed has come a long way, there's still a lot more to be done. In the meantime, Geral’s smile and courage never dissipates.
Thank you for your interest, compassion and love.
If you’d like to help with a small contribution towards Geral's healthcare and education just click here. Your gift will be earmarked for Geral and is tax-deductible. Thank you!