Wish Book

Wish Book: Teen with cerebral palsy needs special car seat

Michael Angelo Ruiz, center, 16, of Miami Gardens, with his parents Migueland Juanita Ruiz and his 12-year-old sister, Andrea Michelle. Michael has cerebral palsy and needs a special restraint seat to travel safely in a car, but his family can’t afford it.
Michael Angelo Ruiz, center, 16, of Miami Gardens, with his parents Migueland Juanita Ruiz and his 12-year-old sister, Andrea Michelle. Michael has cerebral palsy and needs a special restraint seat to travel safely in a car, but his family can’t afford it. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Michael Angelo Ruiz’s ready smile makes it hard to believe he’s trapped in his body.

The 16-year-old weighs only 55 pounds. He can’t walk or speak, and has the mental capability of a toddler.

Cerebral palsy has left him totally dependent on his parents, Juanita and Miguel Angelo, both 48, and his younger sister, Andrea Michelle, 12.

Juanita Ruiz says she and her husband worry about their son’s future. While they have the support of good friends here, all of their relatives are back home in Nicaragua.

“When you have a child like this, you are always thinking: ‘Nothing can ever happen to me because what will become of Michael Angelo?’“

But there are simple joys in his life, his mother said.

“Despite everything, he’s a happy boy,” she said. “For example, he loves to have his picture taken. When he sees someone with a camera, he can’t stop smiling.”

The family of four shares a two-bedroom apartment in Miami Gardens. Their world revolves around Michael’s needs.

Every weekday, a caretaker is with him at home from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., while the Ruizes work at their housecleaning service and their daughter attends middle school.

By 3 p.m., the family is back home, and the focus returns to Michael Angelo.

Like many others with cerebral palsy, Michael Angelo’s life is limited to a bed or his wheelchair. He passes the time watching old Barney shows, Sesame Street (he loves Elmo, his mother says), and Miami Marlins baseball games.

“There is something about baseball that fascinates him. Now that the season is over he misses the games, but his father taped several for him to watch,” Ruiz said.

Other small pleasures for the disabled teen are accompanying the family on car trips to run errands, to go to the mall or to his doctor visits.

But Michael Angelo has recently outgrown the special needs harnessed car seat that firmly supports his head. Without the special chair, the teen is homebound.

“My son’s body is like an infant’s. He can’t hold up his head up. The special chair helps supports his body,” his mother said.

His original seat was donated by a former caretaker and his parents can’t afford a replacement. The car seats are special orders and cost about $800, more than one of Michaels’ monthly disability checks.

“His family needs the chair to transport Michael Angelo to his doctor visits,” said Marielena Sandigo, a counselor with Children’s Medical Services, which has assisted the family.

The Ruizes are hoping Wish Book readers will help. “Getting this chair for him would be a blessing,” his mother said.

Ruiz said she tries to treat her son like the teenager he is.

“I like to dress him like any 16-year-old and give him modern haircuts so he can look like other boys his age. We just redecorated his bedroom with a car motif,” she said.

She said her son almost didn’t make it into the world at all. She said her pregnancy had been normal, but problems at childbirth led to an emergency Caesarian section. “He had been dead for several minutes after birth when they revived him, but it was too late. His brain had been deprived of oxygen,” she said.

Ruiz said it took her and her husband a long time to accept that her son’s condition was permanent.

“When we left the hospital, doctors told us that he would have special needs but I held hope he would get better as he got older,” she said. “As time passed, we had to accept that this is the way he will always be.”

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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