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After chronic illness, San José woman seeks help to become independent

Almost two decades after leaving the Philippines for San José, Nerissa Ramirez’s life finally started to get easier.

She had climbed the assembly line at an electronics company in Fremont and bought her first car. At night, she spent time with friends or attended local meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But then she was diagnosed with lupus – a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own organs and tissues – as well as kidney disease.

“All of a sudden I’m fighting with my body,” recalls Ramirez, 52. “It was so hard.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – October 12: Nerissa Ramirez cries as she shares the story of her struggles on October 12, 2021, at her new apartment in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

In the years since that 2012 diagnosis, that fight reduced Ramirez’s independence to a fraction of what it once was. After years of working and living alone, her illness forced her to spend most of the past year in a skilled nursing facility, receiving grueling dialysis treatment four times a week, and depending on others. for tasks such as eating, bathing and using the toilet.

It was around this time that she met Tita Das, a case manager at the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, a non-profit organization that offers people with disabilities in Santa Clara County a range of free services, such as the advocacy, peer counseling and helping with the transition from hospital to independent living.

“I could see she was very sick,” Das said, “but she has that motivation, that aspiration.” Das began to think about a key question: “What can we take away from her so that her journey can end in at least one way?” “

To that end, the association hopes that donations collected through Wish Book can help make Ramirez’s life a little more comfortable.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – October 12: Tita Das, Case Manager at Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, speaks during an interview at Nerissa Ramirez’s apartment in San Jose, Calif. On October 12, 2021 (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

His journey so far has been marred by painful setbacks. Within months of being first diagnosed with lupus, Ramirez’s energy wore off. She was forced to reduce her working hours in the electronics business and was so exhausted that she could barely move her hands or get out of bed.

As she suffered from different flare-ups, she bounced back between treatments, even going through chemotherapy at one point. A bright spot came in January 2018, when Ramirez finally obtained U.S. citizenship and planned to return home to her home province in the Philippines to reunite with her mother for the first time in 25 years.

Shortly before his arrival, his mother passed away.

“I’ve never seen her, for how many years?” Ramirez said, covering his face with both hands as tears rolled down his cheeks. “I’m so sad – very, very sad.”

She has spent this winter in the Philippines, trying to follow the advice of her doctors to stay stress free and take advantage of the warm weather. The following fall, an unexpected glimmer of hope appeared: Thanks to church friends, she met a man and they started talking every day. After a few months of dating, they got married.

It was this sense of liveliness that Das and the rest of the SVILC team noticed when they first met Ramirez. FaceTiming her husband back in the Philippines before going to bed and eating with friends.

“Even though I’m in this kind of situation, I really, really want to live a normal life like everyone else,” Ramirez said.

Working together under the Section 811 Federal Disability Assistance Program, SVILC was able to secure Ramirez a two-bedroom apartment in San Jose and she left the nursing home in August. Since then, the cozy apartment she shares with a caretaker has been lovingly decorated, with a large portrait of a lush cascading island reminiscent of the Philippines.

But depending so much on others creates constant challenges: Sometimes the van that transports Ramirez to and from dialysis is late, forcing the center to cut his treatment short. Other times, he drops her off in front of his apartment building, too far away to walk the long hallway to the elevator unassisted.

“I am crying, but I have to be patient,” Ramirez said of these cases. ” I can not do anything. Just be patient and keep talking to the right person who can help me.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – October 12: Afternoon light shines on Nerissa Ramirez as she spends time in her new apartment in San Jose, Calif. On October 12, 2021 (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group )

Ramirez and Das seek help from Wish Book readers to secure his first motorized wheelchair, which would ensure Ramirez is never left stranded outside his apartment. And to make it easier to access and return to dialysis sessions, they are also looking for help buying a car to refurbish with manual controls.

There is one more thing: a plane ticket for her husband to emigrate from the Philippines. Ramirez – who has already been approved to be her godfather – took an affectionate look at the bench she placed in the kitchen so they could dine side by side.

Until she arrives, she said, she will remain “positive, positive, positive.”

“Whatever happened, it’s happened before,” Ramirez said. “We have to keep moving forward. “

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – October 12: Nerissa Ramirez chats with her husband, who lives in the Philippines, at his new apartment in San Jose on October 12, 2021 (Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group)

THE WISH BOOK SERIES
The Wish Book is an annual series of The Mercury News that invites readers to help their neighbors.

TO WISH
Donations will help Nerissa Ramirez – a client of the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center – purchase a motorized bariatric wheelchair, power recliner, used vehicle with manual controls as well as a one-way trip from the Philippines to San José. Objective: $ 23,700.

HOW TO GIVE
Donate at wishbook.mercurynews.com or send the coupon by mail.

ONLINE SUPPLEMENT
Read more Wish Book stories, view photos and videos at wishbook.mercurynews.com.


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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.