For a Child Named Santos


In my bedroom in Pittsburgh, PA, the flimsy white cross seems out of place on my bookcase. It is fragile and home made, so simple among my richly-glazed Nicaraguan pottery.  The name of a Salvadoran girl,  Santos Chavarria Luna, is painted on it.   Age 5, the cross tells us.

Back in the late 90’s I joined a group of protesters marching to shut down The School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. We also referred to it as ” School of the Assassins”  due to its roster of graduates:  High-ranking military officers responsible for the brutal deaths of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero, of five Jesuit priests from Spain who were teaching at San Salvador’s University of Central America, for the 1981 massacre of 800-plus innocent Salvadoran camposinos in their northern village, El Mozote.  Most of the dead at El Mozote were children. Many of them babies, decapitated or thrown in the air and stabbed with bayonets.

Coincidentally  I had visited the killing grounds of El Mozote after the massacre. Then it was a barren plot of nothingness except for a small iron “silhouette” of a family of four holding hands; a monument to remember a collective life that was no more because everyone had been brutally murdered. Santos Chavarria Lunas had lived in El Mozote and died there with her family.

As the protesters formed a group  preparing to enter the SOA grounds, white crosses were hastily handed out to everyone by organizers for the illegal “crossing the line of the “School of the Assassins.”  I reached for the cross being handed to me and held it up toward the sunlight to read it. Each cross bore the name of a murder victim whose death could be traced to a proud graduate of SOA.
How could it be?  Of the hundred-plus crosses being distributed, this one in my hands wore the words “El Mozote”  scribbled across the wood bar, and there was a child’s name…Santos Chavarria Luna. Age 5.  The significance of my being in this place was beginning to deepen. This was more than a protest march for me. It was like a graveside visit for a little girl that I had never met but who now was finding a special place in my heart. I had visited what was once her home, where she played with her brothers and sisters, sat on her father’s lap and kissed her mother goodnight. Now they all were gone.

Holding the cross high,  I moved  forward with other trespassers as we headed for the demarcation line that was meant to separate us from SOA property on the other side. Illegal trespassing?  I didn’t care. This was all I could do for a child whose right to live was smashed because of SOA.

I was arrested, of course. That was the point.  My white  cross was taken from me just before I was taken away to be processed as a criminal.  I promised myself that I would remember every detail of my cross…to be thankful for the short time that I was able to carry it…to never forget the name of this child who died at the hands of brutal killers. Their training officers  learned their skill right here where I was now standing.

I faced a friendly prosecutor who suggested that instead of purposefully breaking the law, I could be home with my family “shooting a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.” His face lit up when he emphasized  “shooting”. After a bevy of personal questions, I was told that I would be released since this was my first offense. But if I returned to SOA again, I would face a 2-year prison term and fined a hefty amount that exceeded far more than I could earn in a year.

I was led outside the processing hall where a guard pointed to the ground’s exit and suggested that I leave immediately.  As I walked away, I passed behind a large open-bed truck filled with…could I believe my eyes?…white crosses high up in a twisted pile. They had been tossed there haphazardly, obviously confiscated from the protesters and thrown away like garbage.

One cross seemed to light up like a bright neon before my eyes. “Santos Chavarria Luna, age 5”…I stood in disbelief and stared. It was MY cross, waiting for me to take it away from this odious place!  Within seconds all that was left of Santos Chavarria Luna was cradled in my arms. She was going home with me.


When the flight attendant invited me to move up to a spare seat in first class, I thought I died and went to heaven.

While settling into my luxurious setting, I silently thanked God with promises  of never uttering another foul word or telling even the littlest and whitest of lies for as long as I lived.

I reached for the complimentary magazine in   the seat pocket in front of me to search for its crossword puzzle. My cup of cappuccino would be coming soon. It doesn’t get much better than this, I thought.

Hey, so I was wrong.

It was the stranger sitting next to me who actually elevated my day to First Class status. He started with the  usual non-essential chatting: did I live in Nicaragua or was I just visiting? Where was I heading?

I answered politely, eyes fleeting back and forth to my crossword challenge. Then t he stranger extended his hand and offered, “I’m Alexis Arguello.  And you are….?”

To this day I take pride in my unbelievable self-control and not screaming, “Holy CRAP! The famous Nicaraguan BOXER???”  Instead I somehow managed a hopefully casual, “Pleased to meet you.”  And was I ever! I closed my magazine and prepared for a most interesting flight.

He said he was going to Canastota in New York where he had been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in years past. THe words seemed foreign, coming from this well-suited, elegant man. This world boxing champ could have easily passed for a diplomat or a Gentleman’s Quarterly model.  So much for assumed stereotypes.

“And,” he added with a wide smile, “I’m going to visit my family.” The wistfulness said that this was even more important than any Hall of Fame.

We talked all the way to Houston, Texas,  the flight s first stop, then while  inching through the long U.S. customs line. Once our passports were checked,  we would go our separate routes. I would be heading for Pittsburgh, PA.

Finally it was his turn to step up to the U.S. custom agent’s station. I would be next, but he would be gone by then.  “Have a good one!” I said with a wave. He smiled and waved back, then greeted the uniformed agent in front of him as he handed over his passport.

I silently wished my new friend a wonderful journey as he was about to enter my country to see his family again after dozens of years.

But the U. S. customs agent wasn’t with the program. He managed to topple the spirit of that moment with a scowling glance at Mr, Arguello’s passport. “Where did you say you’re going?” he demanded.

“New York.”

“For what? Why are you going there?” There was a squint in this man’s eyes that said he was looking for a lie.

How strange. I had never been asked this question, or any others for that matter, except whether I was bringing tobacco or alcohol into the country?

The agent’s voice became louder and argumentative: “You haven’t been in the U.S. for twenty years. Why not?” His tone was angry and accusatory , as though he already knew the secret answer.

Mr. Arguello answered with the Boxing Hall of Fame explanation. He was invited to the festivities of new boxers being inducted in its hallowed halls. The same honor that was bestowed on him in years past. But that made no impact at all.

Now the man was screaming at him, demanding a better explanation.  I wanted to scream too, to tell Mr. Arguello, “Hit the bastard! Knock him out”  Heavy words for one who protests wars, hates violence, never watches boxing matches. But Mr. Arguello, though he may be a killer in the ring, was  a true gentleman in the real world. He kept his cool…a calm voice, his hands at his side.

“I just want to visit my family, sir.”  This time he didn’t mention the International Hall of Fame.

I took a deep breath of pure relief when I saw the scowling agent slam a stamp on the passport and shove it back to him. The champion smiled at the agent, thanked him and walked away.

I moved up to the window and handed over my passport. I couldn’t contain myself. “That man is a famous boxer, Sir.” Then I added, “Alexis Arguello. He’s a champion.”

The agent shrugged his shoulders, stamped my passport and told me to move on.


Followers of my Facebook page agonized with me as I tried to get help to rescue a stranded monkey on one of the small isletas in Lake Nicaragua.  So, to share with my faithful NeverNacatamale followers, this blog is about Lupita, and how she came to live in George Russell’s monkey hut in Granada.  This article from the Nica Times sums up the many posts I made on my Facebook page.

Read article here.

George helps Lupita settle in.

George helps Lupita settle in.




He had no name. He was just a dog. Dying alone while humans, oblivious to his pain and fright, walked around him. A few stared and pointed at his skeletal body that could not move except to twitch. But they kept moving, on their way to wherever the vision of suffering was out of their reach.

When our gentle hands found him, they gave him what he needed then. Warm relief. Somehow he knew what we knew: Do not expect anything more. His fate was already sealed. We had only just met this sweet being, but now we needed to surrender to what must come next.

We would end his suffering by taking his life before his starving organs could cause more agony in his wracked body. No one would miss him….but then, no one would ever again stomp on his spirits or deliver unwarranted pain to his body. He would be free of a life of Hell.

We carried the broken body to my truck while workmen who had watched him wither cell by cell for the past weeks stared at us. Perhaps they were a bit ashamed for not having taken even a step of prevention for the dying dog. None wished him well. He was merely garbage being taken to the dump.

At our clinic, Casa Lupita, we watched as our veterinarian administered the injection that would end the pain and blot out memories of a brutal life. We stayed until the last breath was taken. I hoped that he somehow felt our love and compassion during his last moments on our Earth.

I tried to transcend my love to him as I watched him slip away, hoping that somehow he knew if things were different, he would be mine and be loved for many more years.

Instead, I can only share the end of his sad life with you. I hope that his memory will be a force to keep us going in our drive to better the lives of every homeless animal within our reach. Remember him. He is nameless. But he is precious.


Farida and her polar bear.

Farida…ready to leave Cleveland Clinic after successful surgery.

It was in January 2001 that I met Luisa Morales and her 4 year old granddaughter, Farida Ramirez. They sat in my living room, Luisa stoically posed like a cadet, holding the little one on her lap. The child’s bright brown eyes were trained on mine. But the pale blue that circled them and her lips was the forecast for their visit.

Luisa was placing before me a challenge that I doubted could be won…a  child teetering on the edge of death.  Farida had been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. A damaged pulmonary vessel could no longer carry sufficient oxygen from her lungs to her heart. And then there was the hole between her heart chambers needing to be repaired.

The two had covered a lot of ground, searching for help throughout Nicaragua. But it was the same story again and again—-help for Farida does not exist in Nicaragua.

Luisa held up a tiny hand to show me even more solid proof: pale blue beneath the baby’s miniature fingernails. I had more than enough evidence of Farida’s need for help, but I didn’t know where I could find it.  There was no choice but to promise I would try. I would send copies of Farida’s medical records on a journey of hope to the  U.S.  What I didn’t mention was the long shot that we would get answers.

It was my close friend, Ann Savage living in Cleveland, Ohio, who moved us a giant step forward when she cornered a senator at a party. Having grown up in a show-business family, Ann knew how to use theatrics to get her point across. The senator listened with a sincere interest  not usually attributed to politicians. And so, through a congressional grapevine, Farida’s story reached Cleveland Clinic. Within a week I received a message from Dr.John Rhodes, a pediatric cardiologist on the hospital staff, inviting Farida to be a patient and to receive full surgical services.

The specialised surgery would be performed by Dr. Jonathan Drummond-Webb, a young South African who was surgical director of pediatric cardiac and lung transplantation.. Because he was scheduled to leave Cleveland Clinic to join the staff in another hospital, we would need to be at Cleveland Clinic by January 5 for surgery on the 7th.  Farida’s chances of survival were looking better with each day. Our hope was beginning to overshadow our fears.  Another flurry of email “begging letters” brought an offer from Bob Jack, a Texan retiree who spent his days doing exactly what we now needed for Farida. Free air flights for both child and grandmother through Continental Airlines’ charitable arm called CareForce. Bob Jack was their one-man volunteer who worked out of his home, arranging flights for distressed children from Latin America to U.S. hospitals.

We landed in Cleveland on January 2. Luisa carried the bundled child from the plane into a wind-blurred wintery world that she didn’t realize existed. By now the blue hue had turned into a noticeable bruise-like blue. We hoped that curious onlookers didn’t see us as child abusers.

Ann met us at the airport, then whisked us to her home in Mayfield Heights, conveniently close to the famous Cleveland Clinic. Luisa and Farida woke up the next morning to view their first snowfall, both of them hypnotised by soft white flakes floating past the window.  “I saw this snow on TV before,” Luis said. “But I didn’t think it was real.” This was the first time I saw Luisa smile since she entered my life three weeks ago.

A whirlwind of diagnostic tests filled our next few days. And then the hour was on us. Luisa, Ann and I watched a small child wheeled away from us to a foreign place that held the possibility of a miracle.

Seven hours passed slowly, seeming like seven years before Dr. Drummond-Webb emerged from the surgery suite. He spoke only for a few moments, explaining that he had just completed two surgeries back to back and had not slept for nearly 24 hours. He left us with little information, except that the six and a half hour surgery was much more difficult than anticipated, but an artificial artery now reached from her heart to her lung. The hole between her heart chambers had also been repaired. Farida was alive! ….But the next 24 hours would be critical.Though Ann and I took turns between sleeping and sitting next to Farida, Luisa never left the child’s bedside. She refused to take a turn to sleep and chastised herself if she happened to doze for just a few seconds.

As children do, Farida regained her strength quickly, and at times we found ourselves surprised to see a bright, lively child in our midst. The “blue” was fading as oxygen entered into its rightful place in her little body.  We returned to Nicaragua a week and a half later with a child who would soon run and play with her friends, her face flushed with happiness.

dr jonathan drummond webb

Dr. Jonathan Drummond-Webb

As for the surgeon who performed this miracle, we never saw him after he left us for his much-needed sleep though we had hoped to thank him for giving us Farida.

It was three years later in December 2004 while working at my computer with the TV in front of  me that I heard the news. Dr. Jonathan Drummond-Webb was dead. Depression pushed him over the edge.  Apparently the doctor was mentally ravaged by the loss of the few children that he was unable to save. But he never spoke of the hundreds who were alive because of his outstanding surgical capabilities.

Farida Morales Ramirez, once just weeks away from her own death, is among them. Though she never met the man who saved her, she  knows who he was and will never forget him.


I am not an advocate of Nicaraguan dog adoptions when it involves taking them to the States. U.S. shelters are bursting with dogs needing a loving home too. Best to rescue one there.

But then, I don’t interfere with what is in one’s heart. And I’m glad that I didn’t discourage Mike and Katelyn Hinkens, two young teachers here in Nicaragua,  when they decided to adopt Pita and take her home to the States with them.

Pita had paid her dues in life, having been abandoned, starved, impregnated, and living in a drain pipe here in Granada along with her newborn puppies. She and her litter were coaxed out of the pipe (with the help of a very long-handled mop) and taken to Casa Lupita for treatment and good food.

When the Hinkens came to the clinic in search of a dog to take back to the U.S. with them, I certainly didn’t argue. I was elated that Pita was going to live “the good life.”

And that life has continued ever since she has hit U.S. soil. I have received a plethora of Pita photos to fill a few albums — including her nap in her own hammock, riding Mike’s motorcycle, and the photo below — Pita  reuniting with Mike as he returns from a month away from home.

Pita gets a big hug from Dad!

The photo was taken by Pam Reusch, Mike’s Mom/Pita’s doting Grandmother,  who cries when she has to leave Pita after a visit. After all, she lives a long 15-minute drive from her.

(Grandma Pam also admits that her cell phone holds over 200 photos of Pita the Beautiful but only a few of her own children. You didn’t hear it from me….)

See “A Nicaraguan Souvenir” post for the beginning of Pita’s story.


….. I might have been the only vet in my hometown of Williamsport, PA.

I’m not sure I even knew the meaning of “veterinarian.” But I set up my little clinic on our family’s back porch for my patients:  my kitten Taffy and our neighbor’s calico cat and puppy.

My focus wasn’t healing animals but rather making sure they didn’t get sick in the first place. That’s why force-feeding cooked carrots to my patients was always first on my daily agenda.

I outfitted the makeshift ward with my doll furniture, at great personal sacrifice I might add. There were two cribs, a small table with stools in case my patients wanted to have a spot of tea (though none ever did), and a high chair where I would sequester my bribed patients and plead with them to taste the mashed carrots.

To add a touch of professionalism to my caregiving, I pinned a folded Kleenex across my head to pass myself off as a nurse. But that didn’t make the carrots palatable either.

A lot of time went into coaxing our neighbor’s calico to lie down in the crib and stay under the blanket. That would last five seconds tops before she’d escape back to her home next door. It was difficult for me to accept this lack of appreciation.

In spite of the little critters’ bad attitude, I clung to my larger vision of some day having a major vet hospital that would also accommodate horses. Every seven-year old kid loves horses.

It was two neighborhood brothers, wicked as Satan himself, who smashed my dream. They literally put the final nail in the coffin of my sweet kitten Taffy.

They took Taffy behind their house and beat her with a ketchup bottle, smashing her little skull. This was traumatic enough for a kid my age. But they extended their malice by leading me to the killing ground to show off my dead kitten.

Revenge is difficult for one seven-year old against two teenage heartless brutes. But I screamed at them as loud as I could: “ I hope God punishes you! I hope you both get POLIO!”

They laughed at me.

Within a year and before the Salk vaccine was developed, both boys were stricken with polio. I find myself still hoping that God didn’t take me at my word. I would have preferred a bad case of poison ivy or maybe hemorrhoids as due punishment. But I won’t question God. And when you really think about it, polio isn’t quite as bad as a crushed skull.

So without my model patient Taffy, I closed our town’s only pet clinic and went back to being Dale Evans, queen of the cowgirls, with the neighbor kids who preferred Wild West drama.

In spite of my clinic’s short existence, animals occupied a place in my life long after my dream was dismantled.

Soon after it’s closing, my Dad, always amused by the unusual, presented my brother and me with Stinky the Skunk. A barber friend, a man he called “Drag Ass” because of his short stature, had tired of its novelty in his shop, so he gave Stinky to Dad to give to us.

Stinky was definitely a misnomer since he had already been “deodorized. He was the hit of our household until he bit my Dad’s thumb. Then his popularity took a nosedive and Stinky was gifted to another barber.

Later Jasper the squirrel monkey, acquired on a Florida vacation, lived with us until he swung one too many times in our neighbor’s trees.

Jasper the squirrel monkey

On that fateful day, he swung from limb to limb above their picnic table where guests were feasting. Wanting to join the party, Jasper dropped his furry self into a big bowl of potato salad and hopped from plate to plate, carrying off as much food as his scrawny arms could hold.

The frightened guests screamed and scattered, perhaps believing that a gorilla wasn’t too far behind.

Jasper was sent back to Florida as fast as we could arrange his getaway before the police could find him and haul him away.

Years later, I went off to Penn State University and lived in what had once been a male dormitory. I brought my goldfish to the campus to live with me. They swam in luxury in the urinals since we females weren’t using them — except for the one reserved for rinsing our panty hose.

But their lives were snuffed out when a new member of the Squeaky Cleaning Squad mistakenly flushed them to the big river in the sky, not realizing that American Standard appliances could have multiple functions, condos for pet fish being one of them.

Some years later, Felicia came into my married life to live with us for more than 10 years. She was a sweet, scared pup that my husband and I adopted from Animal Friends for our daughters, Cyndy and Jennifer.

Felicia died years after the marriage died, but she brought happiness into every day that she was with us.

A few years later came a starved, dazed terrier found wandering in a nearby park. She became Farrah, as in Fawcett, because of her thick, wavy fur.

I was then living with a man who loved Farrah as much as I did. When we dissolved our relationship, we arranged for dual custody. Two wonderful weeks with me; two crappy weeks with him. It worked well until Farrah developed an untreatable tumor and was euthanized shortly after.

A year later The Duke entered my life. I discovered him while producing a TV feature for a Pittsburgh station. Just a heartbeat away from starvation, he was tied in a dirt yard with a short rope nearly embedded in his neck. He was trying to dig in rock-hard soil, looking for anything that resembled sustenance.

The owners’ house appeared empty; no one answered the door. A stroke of luck for us and for the dog. The cameraman carried the living skeleton to the car. We rejoiced in our successful dog-napping as we headed for the Animal Friends Shelter where the dog would be treated.

His patchwork of skin and hair along with bones outlined through his flesh didn’t put him in the spotlight for adoption. But to me, he was a most beautiful soul.

And so The Duke became mine.

We had a fun-filled life together, joined by Leo, a lionized kitten rescued from the streets, until 1996 when I left Pittsburgh to begin my Peace Corps training in Nicaragua.

Leo went to live with one of my daughters where he became the spoiled king that he was meant to be. Duke went to Tampa, Florida, to live with a friend. The plan was that I would be back in two years to bring him home to Pittsburgh again.

But both Duke and Leo passed away before we got that far with our plan.

News from home of their passing was difficult to deal with. I should have been there for them. But in looking back through my 15 years here in Nicaragua, I can fashion my own mental memorial to both of them. Their ashes are at rest in small shiny urns on my bookshelves in Pittsburgh, PA, where they once lounged and drifted off to dream.

In 1996, when I set foot on Nicaraguan soil, veterinary care was sketchy at best. The few vets here made their living by selling animal feed, machetes, and general meds for parasites or fleas. If they treated animals, they were more than likely pigs or cows.

My initial experiences with Granada veterinarians are definitely memorable. New to my Peace Corps community of Granada , I spent a fair amount of time cruising the streets alone, getting acquainted with my new hometown.

One day while walking on a quiet side street I spotted a puppy near a gutter. I thought it was dead, until its eyes blinked. I looked around for someone, anyone, to give some direction. But the puppy and I were alone.

I moved the little body closer to the curb, away from the danger of passing cars and bikes, should one even pass by. Then I took off to look for a veterinarian.

I found a clinic with a handmade sign. I explained the situation to the vet: The puppy is seriously injured. It can’t stand up. Please come with me and help it!

He asked where the puppy was. He would pick up the puppy in the morning to put it on the garbage pile for pick-up the next day.

“No!” Now the tears were welling. “Please go with me to help the puppy. Now!” But he insisted on his garbage pile method. “That’s the way we do things here,” he said without much pity for the puppy or for me. It appeared to be his final offer.

I left, holding back tears as well as information about the puppy’s location.

I searched again for another veterinarian and finally found one in his clinic, selling chicken feed to a farmer.

We drove in his battered truck and found the puppy still breathing but barely. The vet assessed the situation without even touching the little guy. As I had expected, euthanasia was inevitable.

The vet whistled while he prepared the syringe. His casual manner seemed more suited for someone waiting for his turn in the men’s room.

Finally he administered the injections, continuing to whistle while we watched the puppy take its last breath on earth. I was numb. That I remember.

The vet ceremoniously removed his exam gloves and threw them into the gutter near the puppy’s body. His attitude spoke for him: My job here is done. I won the match. I am the champ

I asked how much I owed him.

“Three hundred cordobas,” he said. Nearly $15 American. A lot of money for a Peace Corps volunteer who lives on $240 a month. It didn’t matter. I had the cash and the puppy was no longer frightened or in pain. It wasn’t going to get better than that.

Feeling a kind of peace, I released the rest of my tears without any regard for my one-man audience. But the message of my emotional pain wasn’t connecting with the good doc. He was still more business than veterinarian.

“Okay. Okay. TWO hundred cordobas.”

Unbelievable. He really thought I was crying over the price of his service. The pity that he denied the puppy was given to me. I gave him his reduced payment, and he counted it carefully. Then I watched him drive away.

He left me with an empty syringe and needle thrown in the gutter and the lifeless body of a puppy.


When I was about six years old, when owning a dog was way better than owning a bike or a new baby brother, one almost became a part of our family when we took a lost dog into our home.

I heard my parents talking about finding his owner. That didn’t matter to me. As far as I was concerned, I was his owner now. He was in our house, he licked my face and allowed me to lead him around the living room with a belt around his neck. For all intent and purposes, he was mine.

I have no recollection why I named him Tony. But thinking back, it was a good fit. I do recall that my parents would jump for a ringing telephone, and only now do I realize they were hoping that Tony’s owners had read their “Lost and Found” notice they had placed in the paper about this dog living in our house. For some reason, they didn’t seem to catch on that I had designated him to belong to me. Forever.

Tony the dream dog sat when I told him to sit, perking up his ears and waiting for my next command. He would bounce across the floor to me when I called him.

We were inseparable….until a week later when a knock on our front door ended a perfect dog-child relationship.

A young couple stood there on our porch, peering around my father and into our living room. Tony’s owners had come for him. It was a shocking surprise to me, but not to my parents. I was too young to realize there had been some collusion that brought these people here.

My father saw the couple’s “lost dog” ad in the evening paper and realized it could be the answer to his prayers.

When he opened the door with Tony at his side, the man and woman both clapped their hands and yelled, “Ranger!” My Tony leaped up and at them, barking frantically, then circled around as though doing a Greek wedding dance.

No, I thought, this can’t be. “Tony!” I yelled. “Tony! Tony!” I bent my knees and slapped my thighs, our signal for him to come to me. “Come here, Tony!” COME HERE!” By now I was screaming frantically. I’m not sure how I could not be noticed, but no one seemed to mind my hysteria. In fact, I was totally ignored, even by my beloved Tony.

The pretty woman knelt down and Tony licked her face as he did mine just an hour before. His tail was whirling while he yelped in a dog’s soprano voice. His eyes never left the pretty woman before him.

I no longer existed and he was no longer Tony. And I knew in my heart he definitely was no longer mine.

Then I watched my Tony being led away on a leash by two strangers who could never love him as much as I did. I knew he loved me too, even though he never looked back.


Kathy and Junior

My friend Kathy Johnson made her decision that it was time to leave.  She died, by choice,  early Thursday morning.  I know it was early. I received an email message from her at 12:30 a.m and we found her body at 6 :20 a.m.

She decided to end her life when her depression won out. The battle was over when she took her pistol with her to her car and used it.


Ironically, just two weeks ago  our veterinarians had borrowed the same pistol to euthanize a horse with a broken leg.  That was traumatic too, but – as with Kathy—it ended the agony of pain.

All the warning signs were there, just as we read about them in novels and news reports.  In her final email to me, she wrote,   “Donna, nothing I can say will ease your anger or pain, but I know you would want for me the things I would want for myself. “

She was so right on about so much….but no, I never would want this. Never.  Kathy, you were so very wrong on this one, Girl!

Then, because humor was part of what and who she was, she added:

“You are everything I wanted to be, minus the kid/husband thing. You know how I feel about you and, no, everybody, we are not girlfriends. (Donna told me to write that).”   

Reading it made me laugh and I knew that her humor was meant to soften the mental pain I would surely feel. This time she was right.

There is still much to happen ahead of us before we say a final goodbye.  Kathy will be cremated on Tuesday, her ashes placed in the pauper’s section of the Granada cemetery as she requested.

Her Sandinista flag will leave the doorway in her house to join her on her grave.  Political differences will be laid to rest along with Kathy.

On Wednesday, we will honor our friend at her favorite Granada bar, Kelly’s, toasting and sharing so many memories of good times together that they are beyond counting.

Her home companion, Spotty the cat, is safe now with his vet who is Kathy’s dear friend, Dr. Marielena Solorzarno. Kathy dearly loved Spotty.  The fact that she would leave him behind in this world was proof that her desperation was so strong.  We needed to know this.

Kathy and Donna’s cats Fellini and Dolce Vita

And so Kathy moved on.  She knew it was okay to go.


May 5, 2002

Thursday can’t come too soon.

Roberto Jose, his mother Berna and I leave for his last beacon of hope. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. U.S.A.!

For nearly 4 months, Roberto Jose has carried a baseball-sized tumor in his forehead, the audacious evidence of nasal pharyngeal cancer that has slowly inched its way to his eyes and his throat.

Until a few days ago, we were huddling in limbo with no guarantee that Roberto Jose would even make the grade at the U.S. Embassy for a visa to enter the U.S.   At 3 that afternoon, we bathed in the sweat of suspense while an arrogant embassy worker strutted his power to deny Roberto’s passage into the U.S.

I pleaded Roberto Jose’s case like a defense attorney fighting to keep my client from a death penalty.  In a way, that’s exactly what I was doing. I described the questionable chemo treatments in Managua where an unqualified physician administered an intravenous solution at nearly double the strength required.

I explained, quite eloquently I thought, that there were no other alternatives to save this boy’s life in Nicaragua. But a world-class hospital in the U.S was offering to accept him as a charity patient.

While I countered each reason of the embassy drone’s denial, more of Roberto’s strength drained out of him until he could no longer stand upright. He bent over to lay his head on the counter of the Embassy worker’s cage, his eyelids fluttering, wanting to close forever.

“Please look at this boy, sir.” I pleaded. “He’s dying before our eyes!” By now my own eyes were brimming with hot tears.

I hope that I was only imagining the man’s smirk when he said with unbelievable calm, “Yes, I can see that.”  Then perhaps realizing his own stupidity, he casually turned his name card toward his chest  and left us to stand alone at the caged window.

Even as a taxpayer myself, I failed to see the problem But then, I’m far from being a hospital administrator. As it is, Mayo Clinic has taken Roberto Jose as a charity patient. No payment for his treatment is expected. We’re thankful for that.  Now, Mr. Embassy Worker,  just let us go!

I’m not certain what opened the man’s heart to finally allow us at least the one chance to save Roberto Jose’s life. But fifteen minutes before closing time at the Embassy, we were told to return the next day to pick up two visas.

We were out the door before any change of heart could stop us.

It has been a difficult past two weeks for Roberto.

The chemotherapy that he received from a Nicaraguan oncologist was, according to a Mayo Clinic physician who read his medical records, way off base. He was receiving much more dosage than warranted. Radiation burned his throat so that eating was painful. He was losing weight, and on a tall, lanky body, it was showing up as a walking cadaver.

Just two weeks ago, he still had a hint of the playful humor that is part of being a 17 year old. He played chess with friends. Teased his younger sister a little, but warned her strongly about hanging out with boys. He hugged his mother a lot.

Today he is weak, has little appetite, and has lost all interest in life. He has given up his fight.

There are those of us high-fiving one another because Roberto Jose has a chance to live. We’re jubilant!  But it doesn’t seem the same to Roberto who will leave his own home, his father and younger sister to go a strange land at this stage of his battle.

“Wait until he’s in the U.S.,” we say to each other. “When he meets his host family, he’ll feel so much better.” We were talking ourselves into what we wanted for him.

Now we know…much too late…what Robert Jose wanted. He wanted to die in his own home.


May 7, 2002

The plane flight itself took a toll on RJ. It was early May, but he was from sweltering Nicaragua and he was cold when we arrived in Minneapolis, even in a ski jacket and a knit cap.

We wheeled him down the ramp to meet the smiling Sue and David Dripp who would host the three of us for what would be a hellish two months. But Roberto couldn’t care about propriety. He was dying, and he knew it.

Still, I had hope, a lot of it. Mayo Clinic had saved Jesus Mayorga. Cleveland Clinic had repaired Farida. This would work. We were in the right place. Yes, I had hope.

I knew there was nowhere else to go except where we were right now.

May 9, 2002

Roberto Jose checked in to Mayo Clinic. This was it. The end of the Hope Line. Either he would find his way out of his living Hell here or it was over.

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Donna and Friend

Donna Tabor blogs about life in Nicaragua.