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Disabled mother and daughter get help with home

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Trina and Patricia Sanchez
Trina Sanchez, who suffers from fibromyalgia,
gives her autistic daughter and caretaker,
Patricia, a hug.

The San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate reports:

Disabled mother and daughter get help with home

Sophie Brickman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, November 28, 2010

Though she is in a wheelchair and many motions are painful, Trina Sanchez's hands are constantly moving. One plays with a green stone tortoise charm that hangs from a vibrantly colored necklace. The other reaches, seemingly unconsciously, to hold and stroke the hand of her 15-year-old daughter, Patricia, whenever she's nearby.

And when Patricia is home, she's often nearby. Although she is autistic and mostly nonverbal, she is Sanchez's only caretaker. Patricia is all Sanchez has, and vice versa. Their bond is so strong that they've helped each other through every one of their many misfortunes.

The two were homeless until recently, when the Season of Sharing Fund helped Sanchez pay the first month's rent on a ground-floor apartment in Vallejo. Now the two are free to take care of each other, which comes naturally to them. "It's almost like they have ESP," said Cyndi Coulter, Sanchez's caseworker at Vallejo Catholic Social Services.

Sanchez, 52, was up and walking until six years ago. She grew up in the Bay Area, taking full advantage of the outdoors, skiing and snowboarding. She once even made her living as a dancer.

But as her fibromyalgia, a medical condition characterized by chronic muscle and joint pain, progressed, she succumbed first to a cane and then to a sedentary lifestyle that rendered her unable to work. Though she held various jobs over the years, including selling her own artwork, she is now disabled and is most comfortable lying down.

Her troubles increased in March, when she moved with Patricia and her cat, Chico, into an apartment in Vallejo. Unbeknownst to her, the building was going through foreclosure, and after two weeks' notice, the small family was homeless.

They found beds at the Christian Help Shelter in Vallejo, but each morning at 6 a.m. the shelter closed for the day, and Sanchez would be forced out of bed, the only place where she's truly comfortable.

"Beggars can't be choosers," Sanchez said, "but it was awful."

Finally, she met Coulter, who referred her to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund.

"I can imagine how difficult it is just to be homeless," said Coulter. "But to be homeless with a disability, especially when there are no true programs that can help the disabled around Vallejo? It's just terrible."

The new apartment has four rooms, but the mother and daughter spend most of their time in the main room with each other. Patricia cannot read, write or speak clearly, but she'll shake visitors' hands, look them in the eye and smile.

"Patricia is my rock," Sanchez said.

There have been men in her life, but, Sanchez said, "I'm into me and my daughter now." She's fully devoted to Patricia, her "little inquisitive girl," and spends most of her afternoons reading out loud to her to keep her intellectually engaged. At the top of the list now are books about stars and animals. Sanchez says her "biggest hope is that Patricia will find someone loving and caring to marry."

The devotion goes two ways. Patricia helps her immobile mother by cleaning the house, microwaving food and plaiting her mother's long hair in a thick braid. Sanchez bought a massage book and taught Patricia how to give her a daily 20-minute deep massage, which helps ease her muscle pain.

When Patricia is off at school, Sanchez keeps her spirits up by phoning her grown son, Antonio, who is starting a Mexican restaurant in Minnesota. With help, she can garden - she even planted roses across the street - and make macrame.

"I used to be an owl spirit, but I changed," Sanchez said, playing with her tortoise charm, a present from the Pueblo Indians she met while living in Albuquerque, N.M. "The Indians told me I have a tortoise spirit now. I'm immobile, but my mind has a bird spirit. It's still flying, still going forward."

She paused, then reached out to take her daughter's hand again.

"The two of us, we've been through a lot together," Sanchez said. "She's the only one who's held me through all of this."

About the fund

Donations to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund help thousands of people in the Bay Area throughout the year. Assistance is in the form of grants paid directly to the supplier of services, such as a landlord. Individuals do not receive direct grants. For more information, visit A donation coupon can be found on C2.

E-mail Sophie Brickman at

The above originally appeared here.


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