Gael Guadalupe Gracia Garcia had to grow up fast. When he was a teenager, his father, Marcelo Gracia, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
At 24 years old, Gael Gracia Garcia has been caring for his father on and off for six years. The disease has slowly progressed. Now Marcelo Gracia, 45, is unable to feed or bathe himself, or even stand without a walker. His son has taken on the role of a primary caregiver while working at a local laundromat to keep a roof over their heads.
The father and son are part of the Statesman Season for Caring program, which highlights the needs of 12 local families and helps hundreds of other families served by local nonprofit agencies. They were nominated by Hospice Austin.
Marcelo Gracia’s daughter Carmen also helps care for him in the evenings when Gael Gracia Garcia goes to work.
“It’s tough for me to leave him by himself,” Gael Gracia Garcia said. “We don’t really know what could happen, with even 10 or 20 minutes without somebody here.”
Marcelo Gracia says he feels desperate when he’s alone, unable to move or look around, but he’s lucky to have his son in his life.
When Hospice Austin found out the Gracia family had been accepted into Season for Caring, they contacted BrightStar Care, a private home care and medical staffing company, about providing care for Marcelo Gracia. George Sanchez, the owner of the Austin franchise of BrightStar Care, met with the father and son in October and offered to give Hospice Austin a reduced rate for a caregiver to come in five days a week, four hours a day. “We’re picking up half the cost of the caregiver however long he lives,” Sanchez said. Season for Caring funds will pay for the other half.
When Sanchez saw Marcelo Gracia on Friday, he said, “You look good,” and thanked him for allowing BrightStar Care to provide care for him.
“George’s company has always done good work for us in the past,” said Melinda Marble, communications coordinator for Hospice Austin. BrightStar Care has made sure to give Gracia a Spanish-speaking caregiver as well as one who can give him medication.
“This is really giving good piece of mind for Gael and giving Marcelo the care he needs,” Marble said.
Sanchez has gone one step farther. On Friday, he presented Gael Gracia Garcia with a full scholarship to become a certified nursing assistant and the promise of a job with BrightStar Care once he graduates. “When we met you, we were so impressed by the quality of care you were providing for your dad,” Sanchez told Gael Gracia Garcia.
Sanchez knows, though, that, school is something for Gael Gracia Garcia’s future. Right now, he is working on caring for his dad.
“Thank you so much,” Gael Gracia Garcia said when he received the gift. “I just try my best to be able to care for my dad. That’s mainly what I do.”
“You should be very proud of your son,” Sanchez told Marcelo Gracia.
“It’s just how he is,” Marcelo Gracia said in Spanish to Sanchez. “Thank you.”
“It gave me chills,” Marble said, when she heard about the gift. “The power of Season for Caring is phenomenal.”
Another big need for Marcelo Gracia is an electric wheelchair and adaptive devices, including an apparatus to hold his head and keep it from falling forward as his neck muscles become weaker. Britt Sitzes, branch manager of National Seating and Mobility, is working with the family to find the right equipment. Last year, he also helped Season for Caring find a motorized wheelchair for a recipient who was injured at work 30 years before.
Before the wheelchair for Marcelo Gracia can be donated, the family needs to move to a first-floor apartment. Hospice Austin is working on the logistics of that and hoping to do that as soon as possible.
A local family is helping the family by donating to Season for Caring for this family instead of buying one another gifts. They are donating $2,000 toward caregiver costs for Marcelo Gracia; a bike and helmet, a train set and more train toys for Marcelo Gracia to give to his 4-year-old grandson; bedding, a mattress topper and pillows for Marcelo Gracia; and gift cards.
A widower, who lost his wife to ALS last year, has donated money for Marcelo Gracia’s wife, who now lives in Illinois, to visit him.
Marcelo Gracia also has received an adjustable bed from Factory Mattress and a twin bed for Gael Gracia Garcia to be closer to his dad at night.
Thanks to BrightStar Care, National Seating and Mobility, Factory Mattress and other Austinites, many things on Marcelo Gracia’s wish list are being checked off. He still needs more funds for caregiving hours, a Spanish-speaking attorney to create a will, a van with a wheelchair lift, and help paying for Marcelo Gracia’s funeral.
To find out more about the Gracia family or to provide an item on the wish list, contact Hospice Austin, 512-342-4726, hospiceaustin.org.
SEASON FOR CARING
• To make a monetary donation to Season for Caring, use the coupon on Page A9 or go online to statesman.com/seasonforcaring . Now through Monday, the Sheth family has offered a matching grant of up to $100,000.
• Find more stories, videos and photos of all the families at statesman.com/seasonforcaring .
• To learn more about donating an item or a service, call 512-445-3590 or email [email protected]
P. Terry’s Giving Back Day
On Saturday, all 14 P. Terry’s locations will donate 100 percent of the day’s profits to Season for Caring: pterrys.com.