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Roberto was being taught a few lessons of his own -- like how to let go.

THE DAY BEGINS: Brushing hair. Choosing clothes. Making lunches. School mornings at the Garcia Serrano home are a blur of rituals aimed at getting out the door by 7:30. Adapting to a new way of doing things, Fidel, kneels to get his hair brushed.


Shown how to lift Ana's wheelchair up and down steps, he was told she had to take it from there. Taught to spot signs of weariness or difficulties when Ana lifted herself and moved about, he was cautioned against always performing these tasks for her.

Therapists warned against the instinct to take on Ana's responsibilities. Such well-meaning intentions could make her feel helpless and Roberto and the boys feel overburdened.

So Roberto stood on the sidelines and watched Ana sweat, grunt and heave her way through her chores at the hospital's mock kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.

He'd always thought of Ana as the strong one. How could a 5-foot-4-inch, 110-pound woman raise three energetic little boys, cook, clean and keep a house filled with laughter and music, and not be strong? How could the youngest of eight brothers and sisters leave behind her family to join her husband in a strange land, and not be strong?

He saw her twist her way across the exercise mat, face set in stony determination -- and knew Ana was stronger than he'd ever thought possible. He couldn't wait to take her home.

Roberto, Fidel and Daniel welcomed Ana shyly when she made a brief visit home. But Tito jumped on his mother's wheelchair. And cheerfully discovered his tiny body fit snugly in the empty spot created by her missing left leg. He clung to her until they wheeled Ana back to the Tustin Rehab van.

A month later, Garrett gave Roberto and Ana the news they had waited so long to hear: Ana could go back home.

Roberto hugged Ana so hard he nearly lifted her off her chair. It was early April, two months after Ana had first fallen ill.

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