Not too sure what to expect, we blindly followed Carlos, MEDLIFE Peru’s director, up a number of stairs to reach Julio’s home in the hills of Lima. This was the first time we were all meeting Julio. Compared with all the home visits we have made this summer, Julio’s home is situated in one of the highest positions on the hills. We knocked and entered into a small, seemingly cardboard room consisting of a single bed and a chair. Julio sat in the chair as we pilled in to speak with him and hear his story. On first appearance it was not obvious what his ailment was, but he and his mother seems sad and the mood was somber. As Julio began recounting his story, we quickly understood why.
Julio is twenty-six years old. For his first eighteen years he was able to lead a relatively healthy life. Though living in poverty, he was in good physical condition and rarely had any health problems. Then, when Julio was eighteen, life as he knew it was turned upside down. Julio developed excruciating back pain that worsened overtime, eventually preventing him from walking or moving his legs on his own.
This crippling problem has inhibited Julio from leaving his small, one-room house for eight long years. After hearing this, even Carlos was taken aback. We had not previously known the gravity of Julio’s situation. Julio’s mother, sister and nephew live in a small home situated just up the hill above Julio’s room. As Julio cannot lift himself up, they assist him with everything. There is no running water in the home and so he has to bathe outside with the help of his mother and sister.
His mother explained that she is constantly worried about Julio because he cannot take care of himself and for years, he has been dependent on her, a single mother. “I am the mother and the father,” said Julio’s mother. Recently it has been exceedingly difficult because her time is spread thin. She supports three children, and her days are split between helping taking care of Julio and caring for her one-year-old granddaughter so her daughter can work. She burst into tears at recounting their situation and admitted the one thing that would change their lives. “I just want Julio to be able to walk. That is the most important thing, for him to have his life back.”
Though educated, Julio’s condition causes him to be bed ridden and unable to contribute much to the family’s income. The family has, however, come up with a way he can do some work to help: he sews sweaters, which are then sold for around three soles each. On average, they sell three sweaters per day, providing an income of around $3 per day. With such little income, the family has a really hard time trying to make ends meet. With no savings or ‘spare cash’, though his symptoms have persisted for eight years, they have never been able to afford a visit to the doctor. He had no idea what is causing his lower body paralyses.
It was three months ago, June 2014, when Julio’s mom heard that there would a MEDLIFE clinic in her neighborhood in Pamplona Alta. She attended the clinic to ask for some long awaited help. The doctors at the clinic then coordinated with Carlos to organize a follow up visit to decipher how best MEDLIFE could help Julio. MEDLIFE’s first step was to gather the necessary information to know what the next step would be. After finally meeting Julio and hearing about his condition, it was an easy decision to make: we needed to get him to hospital to see a doctor and find any possible cure for his debility.
After Julio told us his story, Carlos assured him that next we would be back and we were going to get him to the hospital. When we told Julio we were taking him to the hospital, at first he panicked and said that there was impossible to get him there; he was nervous to leave his house. Carlos assured him we would be there every step of the way. Together, with one person on each of Julio’s arms, we assisted him down the stairs from his house, down the hillside, all the way to the hospital, and then back home again.
A couple weeks later we repeated the routine for Julio’s follow-up appointment. Upon leaving his house for a second time, Julio seemed less nervous to be helped down the steep steps leading down from his room and more eager for the trip to the doctor. In the car on the way to the hospital, Julio appeared to be in amazement with his surroundings; he captured the view out of the car window on a camera phone, seemingly to hold onto a fleeting moment.
Since our preliminary visit he has seen a doctor a number of times, with MEDLIFE always escorting him from his house to the hospital. The most recent visit was for his diagnosis. The doctors believe Julio’s immobility is due to an inactive muscular neuropathy for which he will undergo physical therapy. The doctors predict—with the right treatment and physical therapy—Julio could be able to walk again and return to a life of mobility that was taken from him eight years ago. After years of isolation and sadness for his situation, Julio lost hope that he would ever lead a normal life again. But now, he is overjoyed about the possibility of having his independence back, and he is ready for the road to recovery.
Our goal is to ensure that Julio will not need to refer to a photo on a camera phone to experience the world outside of his one-room home again.