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Readers keep the glow of goodness going

Medical staff members at the University of New Mexico Hospital stand in front of a bulletin board covered with a few of the thousands of greeting cards sent to COVID-19 patients. (Courtesy of University of New Mexico Health Sciences)

Oh, you people.

I’m old enough to remember the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown, when finding toilet paper was our biggest gripe, and staying home a few weeks seemed a burdensome but bearable staycation.

Sure, we could do that, briefly. We could do without, briefly. We could be kind to others in need, bake bread for neighbors, make masks for the masses. We could come together.

But nine weeks into this shutdown, and virulent people armed for war and demanding haircuts and hugging are swarming in the streets. Being required to wear a mask is a civil rights violation to some, a push deeper into socialism to others.

People are still dying, front-line workers are still risking their lives, but let’s fight over how Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s hair remains neatly coiffed even as salons remain closed.

But here’s the good news: Good people are still doing good things. I’d like to think there are more good people out there than disgruntled ones. That includes many of you.

So thank goodness.

Let me remind you of some goodness.

Journal readers were moved by the story of “Baby Superman,” otherwise known as Antonio Vasquez Jr., 2, and parents Tony Vasquez and Shelby Santillan. Antonio undergoes major heart surgery in about three weeks, more than two months after his dad was laid off because of the COVID-19 shutdown. (Courtesy of Tony Vasquez)

On May 1, staff at the University of New Mexico Hospital asked you dear readers to send get-well cards to the patients they are treating for COVID-19.

Those patients are very sick and very much alone, we were told. They are not allowed visitors. Sending cards would be like sending hope in an envelope.

“It lets our patients know that people care about them,” said James Underhill, a nurse in the UNMH intensive care unit. “It’s something to remind them that they are not forgotten, that there is a world they can look forward to being a part of again.”

You all didn’t forget.

As of this week, more than 2,800 cards have poured into UNMH, hospital spokesman Mark Rudi said.

The cards range from handmade to Hallmark, sweet to silly, and from the young and the old(er).

“People all over this city are sending you love, encouragement and prayers for your healing,” a card from a woman named Vicki reads. “You are not alone and not forgotten!”

Funny how a simple act like sending a card makes the sender feel less alone and forgotten, too.

The folks at UNMH are requesting that those cards keep coming. In addition, the Sandoval Regional Medical Center in Rio Rancho is also requesting get-well cards for its COVID-19 patients. As before, please add kind words of encouragement, cheer and comments about your life on the outside. Address details can be found in the box attached to this column.

But wait – there’s more good news, thanks to you.

On April 22, I introduced you to “Baby Superman,” a 2½-year-old Albuquerque boy born with a devastating combination of heart defects.

Next month, the dinosaur-loving, Raiders-adoring superhero otherwise known as Antonio Vasquez Jr. is scheduled to undergo his fourth and most critical open heart surgery at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.

It is the last thing his doctors can do to repair what is essentially half a heart that beats on the right side of his tiny body, not the left, that’s twisted backward, that has two right ventricles that work against each other and a severely narrow pulmonary valve.

As if a risky surgery during a pandemic weren’t stressful enough, Tony Vasquez, Antonio’s dad and the family breadwinner, was laid off from his managerial job at Buca di Beppo. That left him and partner Shelby Santillan scrambling for enough money to pay bills both at home and their stay in Colorado, which is expected to last weeks.

But goodness was coming.

They started a GoFundMe account and set a goal of $15,000, and you folks donated enough to exceed that goal.

That’s not even counting the money that came in through a curbside dining fundraiser April 23 at Bubba’s 33 restaurant and other various ways for donating – including many of you who called me asking where to send your good old-fashioned checks.

“There has been overwhelming, immense support, and there is no way to say ‘thank you’ enough,” Superdad Vasquez said last week. “We cannot do this without all of you. This has renewed my faith in humanity.”

In addition to the monetary donations, Vasquez has also received a job offer, available to him once his son heals and restaurants reopen.

Goodness.

Antonio’s surgery has been pushed back to June 5, with an exploratory surgery on June 2. The family plans to drive to Colorado on May 30, possibly with a socially distanced send-off of family and friends and folks like you who saw the goodness in a little boy’s face and let that goodness reflect on you.

Oh, you people.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.

 

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