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Home of Angels Provides Haven for the Hopeless

August 10, 1989|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

Stephanie, a 6-year-old from San Bernardino County, fell into her family's Ontario swimming pool three years ago and nearly drowned.

For most of the day, she lies in a crib, her limbs motionless and her eyes fixed on the ceiling. Her parents come to visit almost every day, but whether she recognizes them is anyone's guess.

Nearby, on a blanket printed with pastel birds, is James, a 1-year-old who was born with an undeveloped brain. His skull is a wrinkled protrusion that stops a little above his eyebrows.

He can smile and cry, but nurses say he will never be able to do much more. He is fed through a tube in his stomach.

A nurse, massaging his arms, said, "He won't make it to his teens."

Stephanie and James are two patients at the Home of Angels in Ontario, a private nursing home that for 17 years has cared for the most difficult of difficult cases: children who have suffered disabilities so extreme that there is no hope of recovery.

It is one of the few facilities outside of state hospitals that provide care for the severely disabled, and it draws patients from throughout California and Nevada, although most are from Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

"There may be no other place like it in the state," said Verlin Woolley of the Inland Regional Center, a state agency serving disabled people and finding appropriate facilities for them. "It's a rather unique facility."

The patients suffer from near drownings, birth defects caused by their parents' drug use, severe mental retardation, congenital deformities and other ailments.

Mavis Moretta, the home's administrator, said the home, unlike other nursing facilities, does not concentrate on educating and counseling patients. Mostly, it just tries to keep them comfortable and attend to their constant medical needs.

Overwhelming Experience

For some people, such as an aide who quit on her first day at work last week, seeing these children can be an overwhelming experience.

But Barbara McCord, the home's director of nursing, said caring for the children has its rewards. There are no miracles but occasional small gains: a garbled word or a fleeting moment of eye contact.

The Home of Angels was started in 1965 by the late Dr. Donald W. Fawcett, an Ontario obstetrician and pediatrician who opened a nursery for mentally retarded children when his failing eyesight forced him to curtail his practice.

In 1972, it changed its mission: to care for only the most severely disabled, most of whom could not speak or walk.

Today, the facility cares for 59 patients. The state pays for their care, providing $52.62 a day for each.

Most of the patients are children, although a few are in their 20s and 30s. Some are transferred to a state hospital or another nursing home when they get older; many die before their teen-age years.

Varying Degrees

The list of ailments is long. Most suffer from varying degrees of physical deformity, mental retardation and respiratory problems.

Most patients see only the home's staff. Parents often find it too difficult to deal with their children's disabilities and rarely visit, Moretta said.

Miguel, who was born with no limbs or nose or upper lip, died last November when he was 6.

He came to the home when he was a week old. His mother visited him in the first few weeks, but never came again.

Timmy, 21, was born with a shrunken brain and is one of the home's oldest patients. He has lived there since he was an infant and has never had visitors.

McCord said one mother makes an hourlong commute every day to visit her 5-year-old son, Juan, who suffers from profound retardation.

A Daily Devotion

There are bright spots, however, at the Home of Angels.

The voice of Susie, who suffers from a rare and sometimes fatal skin disease called epidermolysis bullosa, pierces the hallways, where the sound of coughing or crying is the norm.

Susie's disease, which has no cure, has left her body covered with open sores and scarred tissue. Because of her disease, she must stay inside.

And there are a few who have gone home.

About five years ago, an Orange County boy was brought to the home after falling into a coma, Moretta said.

His father was a gardener, and doctors guessed that the 4-year-old had swallowed an insecticide or some other garden chemical.

At first he was like many of the other patients, unable to move or respond to the people around him.

But each week, he got better. Nurses started teaching him to crawl again, then to walk, then to run.

Within six months, he had recovered and returned home to his family.

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