Wish Book

Wish Book: Miami couple struggles to give adopted special-needs youngsters a better life

Ruth and Jose Herrera care for their 4-year-old daughter Lesly, who has cerebral palsy and cannot walk. A nurse comes to their home every day to help care for her. Their son Alan, 3, has autism. The couple has adult children, but they decided to adopt Lesly and Alan, children of Ruth's cousin in the Dominican Republic, to care for them.
Ruth and Jose Herrera care for their 4-year-old daughter Lesly, who has cerebral palsy and cannot walk. A nurse comes to their home every day to help care for her. Their son Alan, 3, has autism. The couple has adult children, but they decided to adopt Lesly and Alan, children of Ruth's cousin in the Dominican Republic, to care for them. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Beneath a cloudy blue sky painted on her bedroom ceiling, Lesly Herrera sits in her wheelchair wearing a mask that helps her breathe.

The 4-year-old inhales a mist that opens up her lungs, a routine treatment for the little girl with cerebral palsy who is bound to her chair. Every four hours, she needs this to breathe easily.

She suddenly begins to shake in her chair: Her condition gives her convulsions from time to time. A nurse, Margaret Kailah, runs her hand along Lesly’s dark braided hair, adorned with yellow bows.

“No shaking, mami,” she says softly. “It’s OK. No shaking.”

Lesly’s mother, Ruth Herrera, calmly comes to her child’s side. As Lesly stops shaking, Ruth takes a deep breath. She caresses Lesly’s hand. “I know she’s a borrowed angel,” she says.

Ruth’s days are filled with moments like these, where she and her family consider how lucky they are to be together, even in the face of daily challenges. Lesly, who can’t walk or talk, requires constant care and medication to control her convulsions. Sometimes a trip to the hospital is required.

Meanwhile, Lesly’s 3-year-old brother, Alan, has autism spectrum disorder and is prone to outbursts. The toddler is bright, easily naming colors and shapes, and he’s full of energy — running around the house, his mop of brown curly hair bouncing. When he feels alone, he screams, but he calms down by playing with his Thomas the Tank Engine toys or Belle, the family dog.

Keeping up with the children all the time is difficult, and those around Ruth wonder how she can.

“I don’t know how,” she says. “I just do it.”

The Herreras, who live in Miami, already have two adult children. But about three years ago, Ruth and her husband José adopted Lesly and Alan, who were born to Ruth’s cousin in the Dominican Republic. The decided to give the kids the best chance at a comfortable life in the United States.

Lesley has endured many operations and treatments to help minimize her seizures, spending much of the first few months of her life in the hospital. During the hospitalizations, Ruth made a book with pictures of Lesly as she grew strong enough to go home.

Underneath one of the pictures, it reads: “I am holding on to life. Would you hold on with me, too?”

Meanwhile, the Herreras continually help Alan work through his disorders.

With tired eyes, Ruth and José never show any doubt that they made the right decision when they adopted the two.

“I would never regret taking in the children,” says Ruth, as she looks with tearful eyes over at Lesly, who is sleeping soundly. “She’s my baby.”

The nurses and doctors at Miami Children’s Hospital — who nominated the Herreras for the Wish Book — all know Lesly well because of her frequent visits and procedures, and they’ve cheered her along as she has battled every obstacle.

The time and cost spent caring for the children is substantial, and Ruth and her husband José struggle with the bills. Self-employed José installs tile, but work has been hard to find lately. Ruth had to leave her job working for a construction company to dedicate more time to the kids, and she recently had to stop cleaning houses for the same reason.

Now they find manageable odd jobs when they can, like cleaning up Sun Life Stadium after Miami Dolphins’ games. But it isn’t enough.

“We’ve been doing everything we can,” José says.

The Herreras would appreciate money to help with the mortgage and to help pay for an electric lift so they can easily mount Lesly and her wheelchair in their van.

They could also use toys for Alan and diapers for Lesly, or a radio/CD player to replace one that broke recently: Music always soothes Lesly during her convulsions or when she cries.

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

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