Homeward Bound

After five years as a Broadway House resident, Mario Chuta finally flew home to Guatemala. Behind this heartwarming story is a tale of logistical determination, as staff members worked with medical providers, airports, immigration officials, and the Guatemalan consulate to ensure Mario’s safety on every step of the journey.

Mario arrived at Broadway House in November 2018 with a traumatic brain injury that produces a host of symptoms, including frequent seizures and agitation. Medically and emotionally fragile as a result of his injury, Mario required intensive, comprehensive care from the Broadway House team, including medical case management and psychiatry services to help cope with the major changes to his life.

Despite his injury, Mario has retained a strong work ethic and likes to be productive. He was determined to contribute to his newfound family at Broadway House. “I have to work,” he told Case Manager Mauricio “Max” Rodriguez, MS. Through validation therapy—which emphasizes empathy and understanding—they assigned Mario a “job” organizing condiment packets for meals every day. The small task gave him a sense of purpose and hope for the future.

While Mario was happy at Broadway House, he longed to be reunited with his wife and children in Guatemala, whom he hadn’t seen in 12 years. His daughter was just 3 when he left, while his youngest son was a newborn. Last October, Mario’s treatment team began the long and meticulous process of sending him home. It would be no ordinary plane trip, requiring coordination with a host of agencies.

First, Medical Case Manager Maria Lorenzo reached out to Mario’s family to ensure that they understood the care required to keep him safe. Then, Ms. Lorenzo sought funding for the trip from University Hospital in Newark, NJ, and began to work closely with the Guatemalan embassy to secure the necessary travel documents. Mario’s family lives in a rural area, so she also arranged specialized medical care close to home. Since Mario’s condition requires him to have medical personnel nearby at all times, Dr. Lauro L. Rocha, DNP, APN-BC of Broadway House accompanied Mario to Guatemala.

For Ms. Lorenzo, the result was well worth the effort. “I see this through a humanitarian lens,” she says. “The unification of a family is beautiful. I saw him talking with his wife through WhatsApp, and when he realized he was going to see her again, it was very emotional. The day Mario left gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”

When the big day arrived, Broadway House staff members gathered in the hallways for a celebratory “clap out” as Mario left the facility for the last time and headed to Newark Liberty International Airport. There, US immigration officials took extra time to process the documentation the Guatemalan consulate had issued, since Mario doesn’t have a passport. “Medical escort in the event of an epileptic-type seizure and helping Mario to remain calm throughout the trip were vital,” Dr. Rocha explains. “Mario had never been on an airplane and was very fidgety. I had to redirect his attention throughout the flight.”

But the biggest celebration awaited Mario at home in Guatemala. Tears fell as he hugged his wife and children for the first time in years and began the final leg of his journey home to his village. Dr. Rocha says, “While the trip was mentally stressful, I was very blessed to be the connection between Mario and his family. I felt grateful to be there to witness the reunification with his family.”