When Diana Miranda-Martinez brought her newborn twins home from the hospital, she quickly noticed a difference in their behavior.
Daniel Martinez showed emotions by regularly swinging his hands and feet, while Emmanuel — “Manny” — would only wave his hands from side to side and kept his feet still.
When the twins were 4 months old, an MRI determined that Manny had a spinal cord injury, from an in-utero stroke, that would leave him paralyzed from the waist down.
“We were shocked,” said Miranda-Martinez, 33, a mother who juggles home duties, being a wife, caring for her two children and maintaining a full-time job as a teacher to pay the bills along with her husband, Emmanuel Martinez. “We would question the doctor [if he was] going to be able to walk [and what was] going to happen with him, and the doctor said, ‘We don’t know what’s going to happen, because his spinal cord thins out in the thoracic five level. Maybe that little piece he has is enough for him to be able to one day walk.’ ”
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Manny, 6, began therapy at Miami Children’s Hospital when he was 5 months old and continues to visit weekly for 30 minutes.
In June, he received a grant from The Woody Foundation, paying for a six-month period of biweekly sessions at iAm Able Fitness, a nonprofit organization in Kendall. Founded in 2012, it focuses on intense exercise programs to keep the body conditioned after paralysis.
Miranda-Martinez says she has seen more progress in her son’s mobility and strength in the past six weeks at iAm Able Fitness than in the past six years with regular therapy.
A few weeks ago, Manny told his mom for the first time that he felt like going to the bathroom.
“He does urinate but not completely, and he never really feels anything from the chest down. And after three weeks going [to iAm Able Fitness], he had to go in for an ultrasound of the bladder, and his bladder had to be full and he tells me, ‘Mom, I have to pee,’ and I was like, ‘What?’ I had never heard that before, coming from him, ever,” she said.
The one-hour sessions at iAm Able Fitness cost $90, and Manny’s insurance doesn’t cover the costs.
“In comparison to traditional therapy, where folks pay $200 to $250 out-of-pocket with a therapist that could have two or three patients at the same time, here while it is $90 an hour, the clients have at least one therapist dedicated to them the whole hour. We also have aides that float around and help the clients get through whatever modality or exercise the trainers are trying to get them through,” said Alfredo Iglesias, who co-founded iAm Able Fitness with his wife, Michelle Iglesias, in 2012, after suffering an accident in 2008 that left him a quadriplegic.
Manny has the spirit and energy to move around the house — with and without a wheelchair — and to crawl and play. He and his brother Danny share a room in their house in Hialeah. He enjoys playing video games, painting and creating recipes in his toy kitchen.
“I want to be a train conductor when I grow up,” said Manny, as he showed his collection of small trains in a box.
He goes to school and is in Danny’s class. With the help of a nurse and other assistants, Manny gets around in his wheelchair in school as well as at home. The house is modeled to fit his wheelchair, so he can move easily.
One thing his parents desperately need: a ramp to lift him in and out of their van. The ramp costs $25,000.
The family also wants him to continue with his therapy at iAm Able Fitness.
Regardless of his special needs, Manny’s mother sees her son is happy and grateful for what he has.
“I’ve told him before, ‘Would you like to walk, Manny?’ and he’s like, ‘I don’t want to walk, Mom. I love my chair.’ So, we see how strong he is and that helps us deal with the situation much better than if he was sad about it or if he asked questions about it. He’s a happy kid.”
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook