Joel Diaz talks about his 6-year-old son, Emanuel, in terms of then and now.
Then, before July 10 this year, Emanuel was your everyday kid, on summer break before the big one: first grade.
“He was very active,” Diaz says. “He was one of those kids who liked to jump on the couch, jump on the bed, go outside and come back in.”
Now, after July 10, “He’s more calm. He’s more into watching movies.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Emanuel also is recovering from a catastrophic accident from which his doctors had few expectations for a full recovery.
That afternoon, Emanuel was playing ball with his older brother, Richard, 8, and a couple of neighbors in front of the family home in Northwest Miami-Dade. The ball, as balls will do, got away from little hands after one of his friends tossed it Emanuel’s way.
“Go get it,” one of them cried. Little Emanuel responded.
But Emanuel tripped on his sandals and got stuck in the curb along the street.
A driver in a car didn’t see the boy and hit him. Emanuel was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital and diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. He was in a coma for days.
When he awoke, he could not move his left arm or left leg. Running, jumping and all the other boyhood activities that came naturally are now on hold. The alphabet he proudly could recite post-kindergarten is lost for the moment in a jumble of letters. Memory lapses make it difficult for Emanuel, so attending the first grade at Lenora B. Smith Elementary with his peers will have to wait.
For now, he will be home-schooled.
Belkis Johana Mairena, Emanuel’s mother, can’t work because she must tend to her son’s needs. Diaz, 28, is a valet parking attendant at South Beach’s SLS Hotel. Richard, meanwhile, still cries at night, traumatized by what he saw that afternoon when the car barreled toward his brother.
“It is a miracle from God that this child is alive after a car struck him and he recovered from a coma,” said Luis Altamirano, pastor at the family’s church, El Ministerio Del Rey Jesus. Altamirano recommended Emanuel for Wish Book, as did The Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program.
Among Emanuel’s needs: a tablet and bedroom set.
“A tablet, in addition to being a great academic resource for Emanuel and his home-bound schooling, is also an essential rehab tool for survivors of traumatic brain injury,” said a social worker associated with Emanuel’s case. “Emanuel can download certain applications/programs that can help with the cognitive problems after a brain injury such as attention and concentration, processing and understanding information and memory.”
Altamirano said the gifts could help Emanuel return to school and remain current with his peer group, a goal the family strives toward, said Diaz.
“Granting this wish will enrich his life and help the child progress in his learning after this horrible accident,” Altamirano said.
Memory is a difficult struggle so far. But his caregivers say his progress is also cause for celebration.
“He’s doing good. He plays with his brother. We try to keep him occupied and take him places. But he’s more cautious,” his father says. “Now, you’ve got to be more on top of him because he forgets things and goes through mood swings. It’s a little rough.”
Emanuel still can’t use his left hand and he’s quite stiff on the left side of his body. But there’s movement in his left leg. A good sign, his dad says: “I definitely have hope he’s going to get there.”
Another reason for optimism: Last week, doctors removed a gastrostomy tube (G-tube) that had been used to provide nutrition directly into Emanuel’s abdomen while he recuperated.
On Monday, the start of Thanksgiving week, Richard was away at school. Mairena watched over Emanuel in the rented home they all share with the family Shih Tzu, Jack. There is cause for thankfulness.
“It’s been a bad experience,” she said. “But it’s all going for the better.”
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.
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 Miami Herald.com/wishbook