When Paul Corez left work that night in 1982, he looked forward to meeting his wife and four children and three other relatives for a fun night out. When they didn’t show, he began to worry. He called home, but there was no answer. Well, they must have left home, he reasoned. Did the car break down? Did it run out of gas? A worst-case scenario, an accident, was something he didn’t want to consider–until he received the phone call: A rural road, a drunk driver, a head-on collision, no one was wearing a seatbelt. He needed to get to the Regional Medical Center as soon as possible.
When he arrived, he learned that his oldest son was dead, along with the three relatives. His wife and two of the children were injured but not seriously. His youngest child, seven-year-old Mikey, was fighting for his life.
It was hard to recognize Mikey as he lay in the intensive care unit, almost hidden behind a maze of tubes and bandages. The doctors promised to do all they could but offered little hope: There was serious brain damage. No, he was not actually in a coma. His situation was worse than that. He probably wouldn’t survive the night. If he did, then maybe another day or two, certainly not more than a week. Beyond that, who knows? If he did survive, he would never walk or talk or even have an awareness of his surroundings.
Paul Cortez had already lost a son and close relatives. Now there was a chance he would lose another child. He knelt on the floor next to Mikey’s bed and held the boy’s limp hand. “Lord,” he prayed, “if Mikey lives, no matter what condition he is in, I promise that our family will always be there for him.”
The doctors were wrong about his imminent death. Mikey would survive. But they were right about his limitations; he would never walk or talk or feed himself. Someone would have to clean him and dress him. Awareness of his environment would be minimal. But Paul Cortez had make a promise to God, and he and his family were determined to have Mikey be involved in every aspect of the family’s life.
“Every aspect” meant more than just what the family was doing in the house or backyard. As soon as Mikey was able to sit in a wheelchair, Paul would take him to watch his sister Angelica and his brother Tony play soccer. While Paul coached the team, Mikey was right there on the sideline, as close to the action as possible. Later, when Tony played on his high school football team, the family made sure that Mikey was there, too. Even cold weather was not a hindrance. They just bundled him up to make sure he was warm.
Tony’s basketball games were special for Mickey. The family would place his wheelchair in a safe location but as close to the court as possible. During time-outs, it was a common site to see Tony rush off the court and give his brother a warm hug.
When asked about Mikey’s comprehension during all the activities the family shared with him, Paul said, “He was aware of things going on around him by his eye contact or gestures that he made.” The family also knew that Mikey could feel pain, could feel being tickled, and could smile.
Years later, Paul Cortez traveled the country, speaking to teenagers about the dangers of drunk driving. At some point in his talks, he would introduce Mikey to the audience. Suddenly the seriousness of the subject was starkly visible.
Two days after this past Christmas, Mikey Cortez died. The seven-year old little boy who was given less than twenty-four hours to live died one day before his 39th birthday.
It took a lot of work to wash, dress, and feed Mikey all those years. When asked if it got harder as Mikey aged, his mother said, “No. It just got different.”
And now this from the January 26, 2014 New York Times:
A Fort Worth hospital that kept a pregnant, brain-dead woman on life support for two months followed a judge’s order on Sunday and removed her from the machines, ending her family’s legal fight to have her pronounced dead and to challenge a Texas law that prohibits medical officials from cutting off life support to a pregnant woman . . .
Mr. Munoz . . . had found his wife on the kitchen floor in late November after she suffered an apparent blood clot in her lungs. He, as well as his wife’s parents . . . had argued that she had died shortly after arriving at the hospital and they said they were disturbed by the move to keep her on life support . . .
Ms. Munoz, 33, was 14 weeks pregnant with her second child when she first arrived at the hospital, on Nov. 26, and on Sunday had been at the end of her 22nd week of pregnancy. The fetus was not viable, the hospital acknowledged in court papers. It suffered from hydrocephalus . . . as well as a possible heart problem, and the lower extremities were deformed . . .
A statement released by the National Black Pro-Life Coalition and Operation Rescue said that the fetus deserved not to be killed, and that numerous people had expressed an interest in adopting the child when it was born, even it it had disabilities.
(Footnote: The information for the story of Mikey Cortez and all the direct quotations were taken from a John Rogers Associated Press article entitled “Family promise gave life to man in 31-year coma.” I have written this story as a narrative and have thus described possible scenes and actions that were not part of the AP account. However, nothing that I have added changes the facts as reported in the original article.)