Olivia Richard and Lerman Montoya

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Family struggles to care for daughter in wake of Puerto Rico power outages

CIALES, Puerto Rico – The night Hurricane Maria ravaged the island last September, Martha Rivera worried most about her daughter, Melissa.

[related-story-right box-title=”Related story” link=”https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2018/04/13/pr-pension-and-recover-after-hurricane-maria/” image=”https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/LucreciaHouse-800-1.jpg” headline=”Puerto Rican retirees face uncertainty on pension cuts after Hurricane Maria”]

More than seven months after the hurricane, she finally is able to sleep at night. Two weeks ago, power was restored to the family home, but with spontaneous power outages throughout the island, Melissa’s well-being is at risk.

She had worried for more than half the year that the two generators keeping her 23-year-old daughter alive would fail and Melissa would die. Melissa is bedridden, diagnosed with cerebral palsy and multiple maladies that have left her deaf, partially blind and unable to speak.

“Having power back is still surreal to me, I thank God for it every second,” Rivera said through an interpreter by telephone. “I pray that the families who are still in the darkness will get power back soon. For this I pray every day.”

The cords that keep Melissa alive are strung around the foot of her bed. The feeding tube through which her mother delivers her meals each day – a variation of chicken or turkey flavored baby food mixed with water and Enfamil – hangs with a collection of translucent tubes that run from different parts of Melissa’s body connecting her to the machines she needs to breathe. Her vital medical equipment includes a reclining motorized bed, an asthmatic nebulizer and a medical suction device used to prevent her from choking on food or liquid.

“It is a miracle that they finally got power back,” said Dr. Sally Priester, who has voluntarily assisted the family since the hurricane. “Melissa requires 24/7 care, and so for Martha to have one less thing to worry about means everything. It means there is hope for Melissa.”

The family home sits at the top of a muddy, winding road in small community located within the island’s central mountain region. When Cronkite News reporters visited the home in early March, it had no power and only a partial roof. Rivera, who painstakingly cares for her daughter, was distraught.