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by Heidi Werntz Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2003 at 5:09 PM

The patients and staff of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center allowed me into their lives for two days to do this story. I cried many times while I visited, and have cried many times more since then. Their stories are incredible, courageous, and more than anything else, need to be told. Rancho may be shut down within two months. Their lives and the thousands of others that are with them and could have come after them will be changed forever for the worst if this happens. I cannot thank them enough for their generosity and their trust. I hope I can do them justice. Here are some of their stories...

rancho_larry_wrodrigo.jpg, image/jpeg, 612x367


I met Larry and Rodrigo at the tent city outside of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. We sat and talked for hours. They had me in tears one minute, and in stiches the next...

Larry Purfoy, 27 years old, Spina Bifita.

Larry was born with Spina Bifita, a condition that has paralyzed his feet. He has been a patient at Rancho since he was 9 months old. He was able to go to school, learn to play sports, and most of all, he told me that he has a sense of pride in himself that Rancho instilled. "They never let me feel sorry for myself." Larry walks when he's at home, but is in a wheelchair the rest of the time. He drives now and is completely self-sufficient. And ladies...he's got a great smile! He told me to say that... ;-)

Rodrigo Rivas, 37 years old, car accident.

Rodrigo was the first person I met when I arrived at Rancho. He has been camped out there every day since the tent city was set up, this while being paralyzed in the lower half of his body. Rodrigo was injured in a car accident on Y2K Eve and has been a patient at Rancho for the past 3 years. When I asked him what he would do if Rancho closed, he said, "Stay here. I'm not worried about myself, I'm worried about all of the other people in here that have no place to go." When Rodrigo arrived at Rancho, he was needing 24 hour a day care, he is now out on his own, living by himself. He told me he has traveled more since his accident than he ever did before. He has 4 children, who all live with their mother. She left him shortly after his accident. The pain caused by her leaving made him suicidal, and if it weren't for the people at Rancho, "I wouldn't be here."

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by Heidi Werntz Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2003 at 5:09 PM

rancho_rodrigo_laughing.jpg, image/jpeg, 612x473

Oh, and don't let me forget...ladies...Rodrigo has a wonderful smile too...he also told me to say that. ;-)

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by Heidi Werntz Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2003 at 5:09 PM

rancho_joel_writing.jpg, image/jpeg, 408x576

Joel Morales, CIDP (Chronic Inflamatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy).

I met Joel while he was working away with his Occupational Therapist, Shawn Phipps. Joel's condition, CIDP, is gradual and progressive. The nerves in his body are slowly becoming more damaged, making it harder and harder for him to function. He gets a lot of numbing in his extremities, and is often in pain. The condition does go into remission, but it always comes back and keeps getting worse. Joel comes to Rancho twice a week for physical therapy, and twice a week for occupational therapy. When he first became a patient at Rancho, about 3 years ago, he was in the same condition as a quadriplegic, no use of anything below the neck. Since then he has learned to feed himself, move his body around in his wheelchair, brush his teeth, shake hands, comb his hair, and write. "I used to always write an 'X' for my name, now I can write." His latest endeavor is learning to shave with an electric razor. When I asked him what the difference was between Rancho and other places was, he said, "Here [treatment] is one on one, other places there will be 5 or 6 people working with each therapist at a time." He doesn't know what he's going to do if Rancho closes.

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by Heidi Werntz Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2003 at 5:09 PM

rancho_sonia_wagnes.jpg, image/jpeg, 385x576

Sonia Aguilera, 22 years old, tried to commit suicide resulting in coma and massive brain injury.

Sonia Aguilera immediately caught my eye when I walked into the physical therapy room. Her face was glowing with a huge smile as she was walking with Therapist Assistant, Agnes. While Sonia worked away, her mother, Gloria Aguilera, told me a bit about her history. In 1997, when Sonia was 16, she tried to commit suicide. Her heart actually stopped twice and she had to be revived using electric shock. Doctors said that if it happened a third time, they would let her go. After finally stabilizing, she was in a coma for 2 1/2 months and her parents were told she was 75% brain dead. She was sent to a hospital where doctors said she would be a 'vegetable' for the rest of her life. It was there that she started moving, and trying to talk. Rancho was the fourth stop in a long line of hospitals. Sonia was an inpatient for a year, now her parents travel with her all the way from Pico Rivera for treatment. "The thing that bothers me about [them closing Rancho] is not concern for my daughter, it is about all of the other people that really need this hospital. I don't know why the government is doing this, is trying to close it. There is no other place like this," said Gloria.

Sonia is able to talk, and is learning to walk again. When I finally got to sit down with Sonia, her mom said, "Tell her what you think of the government." "It sucks," she replied. I asked what she thought of Bush. "He sucks. He started a war for oil. He should think about what he's doing to the world."

She was supposed to be a vegetable for the rest of her life...

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Dandalae with Julie Helgren, Recreational Therapist.

by Heidi Werntz Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2003 at 5:09 PM

Dandalae with Julie ...
rancho_dandalae_wjulie.jpg, image/jpeg, 612x525

Dandalae Panton, 3 years old, hit by a car and has major brain injury to right side of brain.

Dandalae has been a patient in the Pediatric ward of Rancho for the past few months. He was hit by a car on the right side of his head, resulting in an injury that causes the left side of his body to be very weak and uncoordinated. The right side of his body is strong, but very rigid and stiff. He is slowly learning how to talk, how to play, and will some day go to school again. I was able to spend a long time in the Pediatric ward, meeting and talking to patients and talking with Julie, one of the Recreational Therapists. Recreational therapy is something that most hospitals don't offer. Julie and her team help patients like Dandalae be able to play again, and help older patients learn how to socialize, play sports, and do whatever leisure activities they used to do before the onset of their disease or injury. "Rehab doesn't just happen within the walls of the hospital, it happens when they get to go out," explained Julie. Dandalae, Julie, and I took a trip to the play room. His face lit up when we arrived. One of his favorite activities he does with Julie is taking a ride in the wagon...

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Dandalae enjoying the wagon.

by Heidi Werntz Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2003 at 5:09 PM

Dandalae enjoying th...
rancho_dandalae_wagon.jpg, image/jpeg, 612x435

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Alma with Marilyn Wilson, Physical Therapist.

by Heidi Werntz Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2003 at 5:09 PM

Alma with Marilyn Wi...
rancho_alma_wmarilyn.jpg, image/jpeg, 612x329

Alma Avila, hit by stray bullet in middle of back causing paralysis in lower half of body.

When I met Alma Avila she was buried under sheets with wires coming out from underneath. She was working on building the muscles in her back up again. Alma was hit by a stray bullet in the back 4 years ago. The first three months she spent recovering in a Long Beach hospital, then was sent home. She needed 24 hour a day care, and had to wear diapers, having lost all control over her lower body.

"I was in a state of depression for 2 years. I couldn't transfer from my chair, I couldn't shower myself, and forget about cooking, dressing myself, putting on make-up...or anything," explained Alma. "When I came to Rancho I was very overweight, and very depressed. I used to wet everything. It was very embarrassing. I could never go out. It didn't do any good for my self esteem."

She told me about her first time at Rancho. "The first thing Marilyn said to me was, 'We're gonna get you out of that diaper kid-o' ". She told me about how the staff at Rancho work as a team to rehabilitate people, "If they close Rancho, it will take much longer for someone to get rehabilitated because they will have to go to one clinic to see one person, and another clinic to see another person. Here, they all work as a team. They even have social workers." When I asked her what she thought the worst thing was about Rancho possibly closing she said, "That people will be stuck in that same situation I was in...forever."

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Alma working on a stretch for her back and shoulders.

by Heidi Werntz Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2003 at 5:09 PM

Alma working on a st...
rancho_alma_strech.jpg, image/jpeg, 612x401

For more information on what is happening on the closure of Rancho Los Amigos please see this article:

And once again, I just have to thank all each and every person who took the time to share with me. I for one, will not let Rancho close without a fight!

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