It was a warm and sunny summer day. Nobody could even imagine the tragedy that was about to unfold. 14 year old boy was enjoying the first week of summer riding a bike on the streets of Davenport. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning in a clear sky, Cruz Perez was hit by a car. His mother, Stacy Perez, was there and she ran towards her son lying on the ground with a scary looking and bloody wound on his head.
“The nurse in me kicked in. I knew he had brain injury,” Mrs. Perez shared. While her husband broke down and her other son was hysteric and very upset, Mrs. Perez stayed calm thanks to her nursing training. Mrs. Perez took care of her son waiting for the emergency vehicle to come and take her son to the hospital.
“I knew the trauma surgeon at the hospital and I remember he started crying when he saw my son,” Mrs. Perez shares the memories that she wishes she never had.
The doctor did not want to wait and Cruz was taken to the Children’s Hospital in Iowa City by helicopter. When the family came to Iowa City Cruz was already in surgery and the wait began. Grueling hours of waiting for news, any news, of Cruz’s condition were slowly dragging. The deep pain of not knowing whether your son will still be alive today was cutting deep into the heart of Mrs. Cruz and her husband. In addition to the unimaginable pain Mrs. Perez was going through, at that time she was also taking care of her two month old little baby girl, Olivia.
Finally, the surgeon came out and told them the words that do not bring comfort, but rather uncertainty and uncertainty could be even more hurtful than bad news at times.
“We did what we could,” doctor said.
Everything changed in one day. In the morning Cruz was a cheerful boy waiting for summer to begin and in the evening he was fighting for his life.
Cruz Perez slipped into a coma. The doctors told Mrs. Perez not to talk to him because it could make things worse for her son, but the mother in her was telling her to follow her instinct. She wanted to talk to her son and touch him.
“I was whispering in his ear that we loved him,” Mrs. Perez said. “I moved his arms and legs to make him exercise.”
For some two weeks are just 14 days, for Mrs. Perez those 14 days were a nightmare, a never ending nightmare . After two weeks Cruz finally woke up.
Fortunately, on their long journey through all the pain and darkness there still was a ray of light for the Perez family. Little baby Olivia turned into the biggest motivation to fight for Cruz. Every time Cruz had a problem the family put the baby on his chest and feeling the heartbeat and movement of his little sister calmed Cruz down. When Olivia cried brining her close to Cruz always calmed her down as well.
“They formed a tight bond,” Mrs. Cruz said. “They looked at each other and smiled.”
No one expected for Cruz to live. Doctors advised the family to be ready for the worst, but Cruz’s desire to live was strong and of course it did not hurt that he had the biggest support from the smallest member of the Cruz family.
Finally, came the day for Cruz to go home. Even though he walked out of the hospital at the end of august, it was far from over. Now he had to go to the rehabilitation facilities where he had to learn again to talk, to walk, and to eat on his own. To everyone’s surprise Cruz was progressing fast. Of course, it helps having a strong and dedicated mom who pushes you to try harder and never give up.
“I always had a struggle between a nurse and a mother inside me. As a mother I wanted to protect my son and as a nurse I did not want to limit him. I wanted to do what was best for him,” Mrs. Perez told.
She explained she did not want to treat her son differently. Yes, he did get a little more attention than her other son, but she tried, as hard as she could, to create normal conditions for Cruz. She asked him to do chores and participate in family activities. She also said that at times it is hard to understand what her son is trying to say. His brain injury is causing him to slur his words when he speaks. He cannot yet carry out a conversation with people, but Mrs. Perez keeps on pushing and encouraging her son to try harder.
“Every day he does something new,” Mrs. Perez said.
Through the months of darkness Mrs. Perez was a rock for her whole family. She held it together. Day after day she held her tears inside because she knew she had to be strong for her family to stay strong through the ordeal. And of course she is very thankful for the support and prayers of the community.
“People I did not know were praying for us and supporting us,” she said. “And for that I am very grateful to them.”
Cruz Perez is not totally out of the woods yet, but the course was set towards full recovery. Now that Cruz is still attending his therapy and getting ready to return to school by Thanksgiving of this year, Mrs. Perez wanted people to know that Cruz is the same boy he had always been.
“Some people view him different,” she said. “But he is the same and it is upsetting me.”
Take a moment and imagine that all the thoughts and ideas you have your head are bursting out of you, but you cannot express them in words. This is how it is for Cruz. It is a daily struggle, but he does not need pity, he needs support and encouragement.
Even though this was a horrible experience, the one no one should ever go through, the outlook is very positive. In spite of the doctors’ prognosis Cruz fought hard and stayed alive. Cruz continues improving more with every day. The goal is to return to a normal life by the same time next year. Cruz is a fighter and with the support of his family he will reach this goal.
“Today’s diagnosis is not tomorrow’s prognosis,” Mrs. Perez shared her favorite statement. Cruz sure proved us that. Congratulations Cruz! We cheer and encourage you to keep on fighting!
Photos by Jose Murillo