Baby Jarel turned one year and a month old this week.
The fact that Jarel is home and in good health is not something parents Mario and Maria could have expected a year ago. The only tell-tale sign of his past health complications now is a long, thin white scar in the center of his chest.
But when he was only a few months old, doctors told Mario and Maria that their baby may not survive at all.
Over the months of waiting for surgery, Maria stayed in the various hospitals with Jarel, never leaving him, she said. Mario and the other children traveled back and forth from Arcadia to St. Petersburg, Fort Myers and Miami to visit. The traveling became costly and difficult to manage on his income from his work laying sod.
For months, Mario drove to visit his wife and baby. As Maria said, Mario became the mom and dad for the other children. He cooked and cleaned for them, did the girls’ hair and got the other children ready for school each day.
Sister Ann De Nicolo, the director of prevention support services in Arcadia for the Diocese of Venice’s Catholic Charities program, first met the family around January or February when they needed assistance with rent and a utility bill. While worrying about the baby’s health, the coronavirus pandemic also affected the family. Mario’s work hours were reduced as a result of the pandemic, De Nicolo said.
Missing work due to traveling and being in various hospitals coupled with Mario's reduced work hours caused the family to fall behind on bills, De Nicolo said.
Through Season of Sharing, De Nicolo said she helped the family with rent in January and February and one month of an electric bill, totaling about $986.
“They’re survivors. They really are,” De Nicolo said. “The whole family really speaks of a Christmas family. Here they are, an immigrant couple in a strange land with a child, and the child is sick at Christmas. He is a miracle baby.”