“Tu hermana tiene autismo.”
“Your sister has autism.”
I have learned that life is not all about me. I realized that I need to focus on others, especially those who are most in need, like my sister.
Those four words changed my life.
In the fall of 2015, my parents, my two sisters and I gathered around our kitchen table. My sisters looked perplexed. My mother’s lips were trembling. She struggled to say the words. After, there was silence. Salty drops were running down my cheeks. The words that my mother spoke went through me like a bullet. I still hear those words every day. Now, though, they give me purpose, whereas before they left me devastated.
During the last 18 months, my love for my 12-year-old sister Magdaleny has grown stronger and stronger. I have learned that life is not all about me. I realized that I need to focus on others, especially those who are most in need, like my sister. I knew that it was not going to be an easy task, but I was determined to support her.
Opportunity found me quickly. One day, in a public library in Bloomington, the librarian finished asking me for the personal information needed to get a library card. Then he asked my sister for the same basic information. She stayed quiet when the librarian asked her date of birth. She didn’t say a word; she panicked. That’s when I knew that I had to step in and say, “June 22, 2004.”
The librarian said, “Thank you,” and gave me a confused smile. When I looked at Magdaleny, she seemed to be embarrassed, staring at her hands and not making eye contact with the librarian or me. My heart dropped. My sister did not know what she had or how her disability affected her, but I was there to help her with her communication skills and behavior.
I’m still helping her today.
I work with her interests and talents, focusing on what she can do rather than what she can’t. Her behavior at home can be hard to handle. She often acts like a toddler, demanding to be in control. During these times, I help her understand that “no” is an OK answer, and that there is no need to be frustrated. It’s tough, but I won’t give up. I believe God meant my autistic sister to be a way for me to learn my purpose in life. I know God allowed me to open my heart and understand that my mission is to serve others.
Importantly, that mission includes the poor. When I was growing up in Mexico, there wasn’t enough money for food and housing, and certainly not enough for the medical care my sisters and I needed. My father had to leave the family and go to the United States to earn money for our care. That’s when I realized that there’s no health care if you’re poor.
These two life experiences, my sister’s autism and growing up poor, have inspired me to become a pediatrician. I want to support families, especially those with infants and those who can’t afford medical care. I want to bring hope to families in developing countries. My dreams will bring challenges, and it won’t be easy. But courage, faith and knowledge are the values that will keep me going. I have Magdaleny to thank for that.