Back in 2014 we blindly followed Carlos, MEDPrograms director of Peru, 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 the homes of other patients we visit, Julio’s home is situated at one of the highest points on the hills. We knocked and entered into a small, seemingly cardboard room consisting of a single bed, a chair, and Julio’s few personal belongings.
Julio sat in the chair as we piled 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 seemed so sad, and the mood was somber. As Julio began recounting his story, we quickly understood why.
Julio is twenty-six years old, and until several years ago, 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 over time, 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. Upon hearing this, even Carlos, who has been with MEDLIFE since 2010, was taken aback. We had not previously known the gravity of Julio’s situation, but he was clearly in great need of help.
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 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; for years he has been dependent on her, a single mother. “I am the mother and the father,” said Julio’s mother.
It has been exceedingly difficult to care for her family. She supports three children, and her days are often split between taking care of Julio and for her one-year-old grandchild so her daughter can work. She burst into tears at recounting their situation and admitted the one thing that would transform their lives. “I just want Julio to be able to walk. That is the most important thing, for him to have his life back.”
Although Julio is educated, his condition prevents him from working and therefore from making significant contributions to the family’s income. Despite the obstacles presented by his illness, Julio is able to earn a little money by sewing sweaters. Each sweater is sold for the equivalent of $1 each, and on average, he can sell three sweaters per day. With such little money, the family has a difficult time trying to make ends meet. With no funds for a medical appointment or an easy way to transport Julio down the hill, despite his symptoms persisting for eight years, he has never been able to manage a visit to the doctor. He had no idea what was causing his lower body paralyses.
In June 2014, Julio’s mom heard 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 coordinated with Carlos to organize a follow up visit to meet Julio and figure out how MEDLIFE could best help him. After finally meeting Julio and learning 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.
Carlos informed Julio that he would finally be seeing a doctor. Instead of excitment, at first, Julio panicked and said that it would be 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 supporting him on either side, 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. For our second visit with Julio, he seemed less nervous to be helped down the steep steps 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 Julio has seen a doctor several times, with MEDLIFE always escorting him from his house to the hospital and back. It often takes an hour just to go up or down the hill to his home. After so long, his doctors were finally able to provide a diagnosis. They believe Julio’s immobility is due to an inactive muscular neuropathy, for which he will undergo intense physical therapy.
Although the initial cause of Julio’s pain is still undetermined, doctors concluded that, due to some mysterious ailment eight years ago, he developed proximal myopathy in his upper and lower limbs. A diagnosis for the root cause of Julio’s problem is underway. In the meantime, doctors hope that with the right treatment and physical therapy Julio may be able to walk again and return to the life of mobility that was taken from him years ago.
After years of isolation and sadness, 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. He is ready for the road to recovery. In April 2015, Aaron Sandfield, a former MEDLIFE intern, donated the funds necessary to improve Julio´s living condition so that it would be easier for him to travel to his physical therapy sessions. MEDLIFE has taken him to all of his consultations and appointments, helped get his physical therapy paid for by SIS, renovated his house and built a staircase leading to it. His prognosis will be known after five weeks of physical therapy.
We are very hopeful for him.