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Effort underway to buy wheelchair van for Cerean
• Firefighters chip in $500
Santana check.jpg
Ceres firefighters Vince Milbeck and Captain Mike Miller give $500 to Rosalba and Andres Santana. Son Jaiden is at left. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Three years ago Ceres resident Andres Santana was busy making a living for his wife and young son by driving a forklift for Grainger in Patterson. A life-threatening hemorrhagic stroke at age 30 rendered him unable to move and completely at the care of his devoted wife Rosalba.

Nurses at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto who began caring for Andres and learned of the family’s needs went into action to stage a series of fundraisers to help them buy a wheelchair accessible van. On Monday the Ceres Professional Firefighters Local 3636 kicked in another $500. Firefighters not only presented a check to the Santanas but also gave four-year-old son Jaiden a thrill as he got to ride him in a Ceres fire engine.

Vince Milbeck of the Ceres Fire Department explained that firefighters became acquainted with the Santanas because of frequent medical calls for rapid heartbeats, high blood pressure and difficulty breathing.

“He breaks down in the middle of the night,” said Milbeck, “because he can’t wrap his arms around his son. That really struck me. I came back and immediately ask our union body if they’d be willing to donate to the Santana family in their fundraising efforts and it was unanimous.”

The nurses are trying to raise at least $40,000 for a used vehicle and to date have raised under $11,000. They would also like to raise enough funds to make the family’s cramped bathroom wheelchair accessible.

“In order to get my husband around I need basically a human lift and because we don’t have a wheelchair accessible vehicle right now, it’s hard to get him around to any function,” said Rosalba.

Getting Andres out of the house would also help lift his spirits, she said.

The couple has been together for 13 years and married for six years.

Mary Frances, a nurse at Memorial, said that without a van, Rosalba has to undergo the physically laborious task of lifting her husband in and out of the car. Many of his trips are to physical therapy in an attempt to have him regain the loss of the use of his arms and legs as well as speak.  The situation makes it impractical to take him to family gatherings and baseball games. 

Andres is lucky to be alive, said Rosalba, as only about 45 percent of Hemorrhagic stroke victims survive. He has his complete mental faculties but is trapped inside of a body that doesn’t work. His speech is difficult to understand.

Frances said Rosalba’s commitment to her husband is trying but true.

“She’s been taking care of him. This love and commitment, in 37 years of nursing I have never, ever seen anything like it. She gets up every two hours at night to turn him and his skin is perfect. She’s so faithful.”

Atop of taking care of her husband, Rosalba also holds down a part-time job.

Santana’s stroke was a direct result of extremely high blood pressure which is genetic related. He had been battling high blood pressure since he was 23 and was on medication but resisted regularly seeing a doctor. Prior to his stroke, his blood pressure was hovering around 300 on the top number when normal is 120.

“It’s a miracle my husband is even alive right now. The survival rate for his type of stroke is 40 percent. They told me if my husband had been 60 years old he wouldn’t have survived it. But his age has helped him tremendously through this process – and his fighting spirit.

The effort to raise money has included a Sept. 22 yard sale at Pep Boys conducted by 86 volunteers. A paint night is set for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Creekside Golf Course, 701 Lincoln Ave., Modesto; and a murder mystery from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 950 Oakdale Road, Modesto. (Tickets to the murder mystery may be purchased by calling Ginger Luna at 606-3831.)

“We’re gonna do whatever it takes,” said Frances.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for public donations as well.  It can be found by searching for Santana Family Needs a Ride or visiting It had collected $10,480 as of Tuesday.