Since arriving in South Florida last December from Colombia, Diana Bustamante and her family have endured the hardships of navigating a new country without speaking English or having any known relatives or friends to guide them.
Bustamante lived with her husband, Cesar and her two sons in hotels for nearly 20 days after arriving in the United States, keeping most of their personal belongings in the car.
Looking back, Bustamante said, “coming to this country without any knowledge or anything, it was very complicated. Being immigrants, it was very difficult. People took advantage of us.”
Caring for her son
Juan Luna Bustamante has cerebral palsy. He was born prematurely after only 31 weeks.
Currently, Bustamante’s life centers on caring for her 14-year-old son. She doesn’t have time to work much, but occasionally, she cleans homes to make extra income for her family. Her husband and older son, Nicolas, 23, work to pay the rent and bills. Nicolas is a busser at Pilo’s Tequila Garden in Wynwood. Cesar does maintenance and repairs on computers.
Her daily routine consists of waking up early in the morning to prepare her son’s breakfast and lunch ahead of the day. She bathes and clothes him, brushes his teeth, and prepares him for school.
Throughout the week, she takes Juan to therapy sessions and medical appointments.
Every night, she watches television and makes the family dinner. At 8 p.m., she prepares him to go to sleep.
“I am his eyes and feet,” she says. “I do everything with him.”
In Colombia, Juan’s education was a concern for Bustamante.
“He could not attend school in Colombia,” she said. “He fell behind in school because schools never wanted to accept him.”
Upon arriving in Miami this past December, she was unsure about Juan’s next step. She didn’t know where to put him in school or to find proper medical care.
Eventually, Dyan Perez, the education support specialist for Parent-to-Parent Miami, a non-profit that specializes in helping families that include children with special needs, contacted her. Perez began to work closely with Bustamante and her son. She sympathized with their struggles and also noted their resiliency.
She recalled, “They are both fighters. Diana is always happy and hopeful that things will get better for them. Juan is always willing to help others despite his physical limitations.”
Perez assisted them in enrolling Juan in school and applying for health care. She guided them in adapting to their new surroundings.
She reminded Diana that her son’s condition and wheelchair should not impede him from receiving a proper education.
“She would call me to help, and I would think, ‘How could it be possible that this person is calling me and willing to help?'” Bustamante said, “For me, it was such a beautiful experience.”
Currently, Juan is attending ninth grade at Coral Gables High School. He takes English tutoring lessons online since he struggles to understand in school. His favorite subject is math, but overall struggles with classes. He hopes to become a mentor for other children when he grows older and to build a hospital for children like himself.
“There was so much willingness of people that wanted to help my son with his education,” Diana admitted. “Really, I have never seen so much help. Now he can attend school in his wheelchair, and there are no obstacles for him.”
Diana’s Holiday Wish
Many years of lifting Juan into the car and onto wheelchairs have taken a toll on Diana’s physical health. Now, Juan has become too heavy for his mother to carry him. His brother and father are both at work, so they cannot help her.
From Wishbook, Diana would like a ramp and mobility carrier or lift for her son’s wheelchair. It would facilitate trips to doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions.
Perez, the support specialist, recommended the Bustamante’s for Wishbook after realizing the difficulty she had in lifting Juan off the bed or into the car.
“She’s a very involved parent, always putting her son’s needs ahead of herself,” Perez said. “A ramp and a lift for her car would help with the constant lifting, which is causing her back problems.”
Bustamante says that her son’s wheelchair gives him a sense of freedom and independence. The modification would make transportation more accessible for him.
“The doctors always said he would never be able to walk or even lift a finger… almost in a vegetable state. I never listened to those words.” Bustamante continued, “I have always fought for him. I have always wanted the best for him.”
She remarked, “Like any mother, I want my child to forge his own future and destiny.”