A 91-year old needs a working AC unit

Orlando Bello turned 91 years old on Christmas day. Born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, he lives alone in a cluttered North Miami apartment and hasn’t seen his wife or family in years, though he speaks with them by phone every day. Neither his air conditioning nor his stove work. A year ago, he fractured his femur and can barely get around his tiny living room.   

But he never grumbles or makes a fuss, says his niece, Hilda Luque. 

“He’s never complained about not having any of that,” she says. “He has always worried about the needs of our family.” 

Orlando Bello’s AC (Helen Acevedo/SFMN)

Luque says that when they lived in Cuba, her uncle constantly checked in on the family and made sure they had everything they needed. 

Early in his life, Bello moved across the island to Havana with his family. He simultaneously attended school and worked at a lawyer’s office as a typist in his teenage years. 

“My parents always told me that I had no need to work,” he said. “I told them that I wanted to work and I promised them that I’d continue to go to school.”

He fell in love with a young woman, Argelia Herrera, who lived on the same street as the law office. Years later, the couple married and had three children: Isabel, Carlitos, and Beatriz Bello.

The 90-year-old was in his twenties when Fidel Castro took over. His wife and her co-workers were replaced at the National Bank. Though many dangers and challenges followed, Bello describes his life in Cuba as something positive. He had his wife, kids, and family on the island. 

“The reality is that I was very happy in Cuba,” he said. 

In 1980, Bello made a living as a pharmacy clerk and took care of his family when his older brother Oscar suddenly fell ill due to late-stage cirrhosis of the liver. Oscar was caring for their mother in Miami. She was battling breast cancer. 

So Orlando made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, where he explained his family’s situation and was granted a visa to travel to Miami.

When he arrived in the United States, his brother had already passed away. He remembers going from the airport straight to his brother’s wake. Bello then became his mother’s caretaker and was granted U.S. residency.

Soon, he found a job through a friend of his brother as a supervisor at the Sheraton Bal Harbour. He worked there until the management announced the building would be demolished and employees were all laid off. He was offered another position at a different location but decided to retire. He believes he doesn’t speak enough English to work elsewhere.

Fast forward to now, Bello is 91-years-old and living in a one-bedroom apartment. His family would like to come to the United States but has not been granted visas.

Things got complicated for Bello years ago when his stove stopped working. He uses a small hot plate to heat his food. Then about two years ago, his air conditioner failed. 

“The retirement check that I receive is very small,” he said. “It is practically not enough for me at all.”

Orlando Bello’s burner (Helen Acevedo/SFMN)

He has resorted to using a box fan and opening up all the windows and his balcony door. He sleeps in a reclining chair in the living room. 

About a year ago, Bello fell in the lobby of his building and fractured his femur. His mobility became extremely limited and he needed help just to get around.

After his accident, his niece contacted the North Miami Foundation for Senior Citizens Service. 

“I found an organization that is able to give him hot food every day,” said Luque. “That’s one of the most important things.”

The North Miami Foundation for Senior Citizens nominated Bello for Wishbook.

“I think that he is a good person,” said Guillen. “He is very nice and very grateful. He is a person who needs help, who worked all of his life, and at this point in his life, he needs our assistance and I am really happy to serve.” 

This story first appeared in the Miami Herald.

Helen Acevedo is an FIU student majoring in broadcast media with a minor in political science and international relations. She is passionate about giving people a platform to tell their truths.