Erik’s Story: How a Baja Boy’s Life Changed With “Aid for Baja”

Erik Estrada, or Eddie as he was called in the Agua de Las Flores neighborhood in the San Quintin Valley of Baja California, was born with cerebral palsy, and at 11 years old, he badly needed surgery on his injured right foot. He was also the first youngster from Baja’s San Quintin Valley who was enrolled in the Shriner’s Program by Aid for Baja California (ABC) to receive surgery at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Los Angeles.

Young Erik Estrada (right) in Baja California, before surgery.

Young Erik Estrada (right) in Baja California, before surgery.

Erik before surgery on bicycle, donated by Aid for Baja (1996).

Erik before surgery on bicycle, donated by Aid for Baja (1996).

Erik’s mother, Angela Viterbo, believed she had dropped a chair on the young boy’s fragile foot, causing his serious injury. Erik needed surgery, but because the family lived in rural Oaxaca at the time, no local medical services were available. When ABC approached his family in 1996, Erik’s father didn’t want Erik to have surgery, as he wanted his son to stay in Baja and work in the fields with him. Erik’s mother, on the other hand, insisted Erik attend school and pursue education outside of fieldwork.

Both Erik’s parents speak Mixteco and limited Spanish, and they knew little of Los Angeles. In spite of Angela’s hopes for her son’s future, it took ABC almost two years to convince her that Shriner’s Hospital in Los Angeles would neither sell her son nor his body parts if they traveled there for treatment. Luckily, after long conversations and steady reassurance, Erik’s parents agreed to allow Erik to travel to Shriner’s and get surgery on his foot in 1998.

In April 1998, when Erik was almost 12 years old, ABC representative Gabriel Soria in Agua de las Flores picked up Erik and his mother to drive them to his surgery in Los Angeles. Families in need who traveled to Shriner’s for treatment were often invited to stop and stay at ABC secretary Anne Stadler’s home in Escondido, before and after surgery. Erik and his mother were one of those families.

When Erik and his mother arrived at Anne’s home in Escondido, Anne showed Erik around her house and explained to him how to use the toilet, as his family didn’t have one in their home in Baja California. As they exited the bathroom, Anne reminded Erik to turn off the lights, and he looked up at her and said, “How?” Erik had never before experienced electric lights, nor had he experienced running water.

On April 28, 1998, Erik’s right foot was operated on at Shriner’s Hospital in Los Angeles, where he was interned for a week. His mother accompanied him for all services. After surgery, the two returned to San Quintin in Baja California for six weeks of recuperation, along with ABC representatives.

erik-recovery-1998-with-abc-and-family

Erik in Escondido after surgery with ABC representatives, preparing to go home to San Quintin Valley.

At intervals of 3 to 6 months, Shriner’s Hospital scheduled checkups for Erik in Los Angeles and routinely gave him newly-formed braces for his foot/leg. ABC facilitated his transportation, border crossing documents, food, and other needs. Once he reached the age of 18, Shriner’s service ended, and Erik found someone in his community to provide his future foot braces.

Erik and mom, Angela, with neighbors in front of 1-bedroom temporary housing (2004). Nine family members were housed for six weeks in this home.

Erik finished high school with further assistance from ABC. He continued his studies to become a bilingual teacher, and he was placed in charge of a class of multilingual 3rd-graders in the San Quintin educational system. Today, Erik is a graduate of the Normal School where teachers become certified, and he has finished his post-graduate work in Teacher Education.

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