Family pitches in to help lift boy from crippling condition

Jeffrey Lopez sits in his wheelchair on the porch of his home in West Palm Beach.

With the sound of every piano key inside a mobile home on a recent November morning, a deep bond is evident between brother and sister. As she plays, he listens. When she smiles, he smiles even bigger.

Jeffrey Lopez, 12, was born with cerebral palsy. The condition affects his body movements, muscle control, reflex, posture, learning abilities, speech and vision, among other physical and mental abilities. But nothing seems to affect his appreciation for the music his sister, Jaquelyn, plays.

“He’s always smiling with happiness. He loves spending time with me when I play,” says Jaquelyn, 13.

Jeffrey is in the sixth grade but often misses school during the week because of multiple physical and occupational therapy appointments. During the day, he goes to Royal Palm School Lantana that caters to children and young adults with the most severe disabilities and medical needs. After school, he attends VIP Kidz, a Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care facility in West Palm Beach designed for children with special needs.

At home, he is cared for by his mother Heidi Lopez, 31. They share a mobile home with Jeffrey’s siblings, Jaquelyn and 9-year-old Abner who pitch in to help Jeffrey.

But Lopez says her son is a virtual prisoner at home. The steps into the home make it difficult for him to get in and out. Jeffrey is growing bigger and heavier, and the chair he uses is also heavy, which makes it difficult for his family to carry him. The family doesn’t have a vehicle big enough to fit his electric wheelchair, which means Jeffrey often cannot go on outings.

Heidy gives Jeffrey a shower.

Jeffrey has outgrown his bathing chair, but the shower is too small to fit a larger one. At night, he often falls off his bed because it lacks railings to keep him safe. During the night, his mother changes his position several times a night to keep the boy’s body from hurting.

Everyone tries to keep Jeffrey entertained, especially Jaquelyn. She makes sure Jeffrey doesn’t feel alone. She watches TV with him. She plays soccer with him by placing a ball on his shoes and asking him to kick it. She also carries their new puppy next to him to help get over his fear of dogs.

“He cries a lot for his sister. He always wants to be with her,” Lopez says.

For two years, Jaquelyn used to take him to his bus stop in the mornings, and then go back home to get ready for school. But, things changed recently when Lopez gave up her job to devote more time to her son.

“I felt bad that Jaquelyn was taking care of him before and after school, while I was all day at work,” said Lopez, who is studying cosmetology on the weekends. This allows her to take him to his multiple therapy sessions, attend meetings at school or be home in case Jeffrey is too sick to attend school.

Lopez says the doctors told her Jeffrey will never be able to speak or walk.

But despite the medical realities, Lopez says she believes God will continue to bring them miracles. A year ago, Jeffrey had a successful surgery on both hips, which has made it easier to move him around. The family attends church Fridays and Sundays, and on Saturdays, they bring the church to the house, where they preach, pray and sing around the boy.

“I have faith that the Lord will help Jeffrey stand up and walk,” says Lopez.

Inside the house that November morning, Jaquelyn holds Jeffrey’s hands and places them on each key, as she guides him through some of the melodies she’s learning.

Jeffrey’s tempos are not in sync with his sister’s, but their heartbeats are. Together they fill their home with melodies of happiness and hope as their mother gazes in awe.

JEFFREY’S WISH

Jeffrey Lopez, 12, was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that has him using an electric wheelchair and dependent on the care of his family. Jeffrey keeps growing bigger and heavier. His mother, Heidi Lopez, 31, has to carry her 75-pound son around the house — onto his chair, out of his chair, in the car and anywhere they have to go. Jeffrey can’t control his posture, he can’t walk, talk, feed himself or use the bathroom. He depends on his family to assist with his basic needs. Jeffrey spends most of the time indoors because their mobile home doesn’t have ramps for his wheelchair. The family wishes to take Jeffrey to the beach or to watch soccer more often. However, their car cannot accommodate his bulky wheelchair. Heidi and her other two kids ages 13 and 9 are exhausted. They barely get any sleep at night because Jeffrey wakes them up several times in the middle of the night, sometimes because he falls off the bed, which lacks railings. In the mornings, when they get ready for school, the family struggles to bathe Jeffrey because the shower is too small and doesn’t fit his bathing chair. He has been using an old, small chair that he outgrew months ago. During the day, Jeffrey goes to a school that caters to his needs, though he must miss school often to attend therapies. The family needs a large van to fit Jeffrey’s wheelchair, a bigger shower, bed railings and ramps around the house that would ease the boy’s difficulties.

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Photography by Calla Kessler/Staff

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