Even before she suffered her first stroke, before she turned 40, Judith Fortulien and her husband struggled to feed and clothe their five children, pay the bills and celebrate the holidays the way most families do.
A Christmas tree was an unaffordable luxury, and so the Fortuliens have never had one. A home computer that their children required for classroom assignments was beyond their means.
But after Judith’s first stroke, and then another a year later in 2014, the financial pressure became even more intense for the Fortuliens, who live in a small apartment in Sunrise.
“It’s really tough for us,” Judith said.
At one time, they were a two-income family. Judith worked as a housekeeper at a Fort Lauderdale hotel, changing sheets and cleaning bathrooms. Her husband, Samuel, drove a truck for a furniture company.
They sent their kids to school and went to church on Sundays.
Then, one day in 2013, their lives changed for the worse. Judith was at work when she began feeling ill and received permission from her manager to go home.
“I got home, and that’s when I passed out,” she said.
That was the first stroke, which affected her left side. The second occurred the following year.
“After my uncle passed away and I came home, the emotion of my uncle passing away, I passed out, and the stroke come back again, and I fell on my side again, the same side,” she said.
Judith felt fortunate just to survive.
“I said, ‘Thank God I’m not paralyzed,’ ” she said. “I’m blessed.”
But the strokes rendered her unable to return to her job. Her knees were in such pain that she could no longer perform the tasks required of a housekeeper, leaving her husband as the family’s primary provider.
It has been difficult. While she is able to work a security job a couple of days a week, it’s not enough.
“It’s hard for me to find a [full-time] job,” Judith said. “I’m looking.”
The transmission on her husband’s car is broken. He can’t put it in reverse.
“He said eventually it’s going to just stop,” said Natasha, the oldest daughter. “He has to put it in neutral and push it out if he wants to go backwards. He has to park sideways.”
The back passenger window on Judith’s car is held together with screws. But she drives it, broken window and all. She uses it every day after school to take her children to the library so they can do their homework on the computers there.
When the library isn’t open, they must make do with a smartphone because they don’t have a home computer or a printer.
“They need to do their homework,” Judith said. “If we had a computer, they could do it at home.”
The kids need clothes and bills need to be paid.
Natasha enlisted in the Army just to help with the family expenses. She reports for basic training on Jan. 2.
“It’s the best way to help out,” Natasha said. “That’s how I’m trying to help, by going in. It’ll help with the bills a lot more.”
For now, Judith said she’s praying just to get through the holidays. “I can thank God that I’m here and breathing,” she said.
When asked what would best brighten their holiday, Natasha piped in quickly: “A Christmas tree. We’ve never had one before.”
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 your 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.