Like most 14-year-olds in Miami, Sofía García is a big fan of the Miami Heat. She also loves taking pictures and singing.
However, when Sofía turned 1, her parents, René and Elena García, realized there was something not so average about their daughter.
They suspected that Sofía had neurological problems. She didn’t walk, she rolled her eyes all the way around and didn’t even trying mouthing words. Sofía also had trouble containing saliva inside her mouth.
An orthopedic doctor advised Sofía’s parents to take her to Miami Children’s Hospital for an evaluation.
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They obliged, and Sofía was diagnosed with microcephaly, dysplasia in the frontal hemisphere, retardation, autism and syringomyelia, damage to the spine caused by a hole that fills up with fluid. She has had operations on her legs to repair a variation of deformities.
Her routine is the same every day: She goes to school until 2:30 p.m. From 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., she receives behavioral therapy, and from 5 to 6 p.m., she receives occupational and speech therapy in a specialized center on Krome Avenue and 320th Street in Homestead, two miles from her home.
But in June last year, the engine in the family’s only car, a 2000 Honda Accord, was damaged during a flood that covered the front of the house. Since then, taking Sofía to therapy has become an odyssey.
The transportation company hired by Medicaid to take Sofía to her therapy sessions, the family says, has not been reliable.
“We have lost more than 40 therapy sessions because of the transportation situation,” Elena García said.
García has had to walk home several times with daughters Sofía and Rachel, 10, who also receives occupational therapy at the center. One time they walked home in the rain.
The two-mile trek to therapy that would take five minutes in a car, becomes a torturous hour-long walk for García and her two girls. Beyond taking the girls, she must lug a suitcase filled with fresh clothes and other items Sofía needs when she’s out.
“I hold hands with each one on either side of me, but it’s not easy,” said García. “Sofía has difficulty walking, and sometimes she refuses to do so. She throws herself on the floor or tries to escape from my grip. My other daughter tries to help me, but I feel bad for her because she’s still so young. ... Sometimes it’s so frustrating that I don’t even know what to do.”
Both parents have complained repeatedly about the unreliable service from the transportation company. But, so far, their attempts to resolve the situation have failed.
Said the frustrated father, René García, 64: “I’m truly desperate.”
René García hasn’t been able to work since 2011 because of his own health issues. An accident, a thyroid operation, carpel tunnel syndrome and cardiac problems have forced him into early retirement, and because of this, he receives a reduced pension. At the end of last year, he underwent three months of psychiatric treatment for severe depression.
Despite efforts to fix the family car, the motor must be replaced and the Garcías simply can’t afford to pay the $1,200 that it costs to buy a new one.
Yamilet Hernández, the behavioral therapist who has been working with Sofia since August, said the girl’s parents are exemplary.
“They do anything they need to for their daughters and give them everything they can,” Hernández said.
The therapies that Hernández gives to Sofía take place at the García home. Many times before going to their house, Hernández does the parents the favor of picking up their youngest daughter Rachel from school since the child doesn’t have any other form of transportation. Other times, the parent of one of Rachel’s classmates takes her home.
But many times, the family can’t arrange it so that a neighbor or friend can pick up Rachel from school. The same thing happens for Sofía’s doctors’ appointments. It has been more than a year since Sofía’s parents have been able to take her to the neurologist.
Sofía’s behavioral therapies have had good results and she has progressed a lot. Since Hernández started visiting the home, Sofía has stopped behaving aggressively. She has started going to the bathroom and performing a series of other activities that show that she’s evolving satisfactorily.
A new or restored family vehicle with the help of Wish Book would allow the family to get around on its own and get Sofia to the appointments she needs to continue to improve.
“It’s sad knowing that there will be times that she has to miss other therapy sessions,” Hernández said. “Every therapy session she receives is fundamental for her development.”
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