The Best Present : Boy, 7, Released From Hospital in Time to Spend Christmas at Home

Times Staff Writer

Christmas came early this year for Jeffrey and Lisa Ramirez Sr. of Placentia, and neither of them is complaining.

Despite doctors' earlier reports that their 7-year-old son, Jeffrey, might remain in the hospital through Christmas, the bright-eyed first-grader was released last week.

Jeffrey, born with spina bifida--a condition characterized by a defective closure of the bony encasement of the spinal cord--and paralyzed from the waist down, has been in and out of hospitals more than eight times, said Lisa Ramirez, 23. And his last six-day stay at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange was the "most scary. . . . We didn't know what was going to happen," she said.

But Jeffrey, being the "fighter" he is, was home this week to share another special event with his parents. The Placentia Lend-a-Hand organization, a nonprofit group that provides assistance to hardship families, donated about $75 worth of food and toys to Jeffrey and his family.

Not surprisingly, Jeffrey's attention Friday was on his newly acquired toys--a bright red-and-yellow dump truck, a pencil set and a Care Bear. He said he also asked Santa Claus for "cars . . . a tractor . . . a bike . . . and I want a motorcycle."

Betty Mead, secretary for Lend-a-Hand, said that part of the donation came from the proceeds of two sweepstakes contests for needy families advertised in a recent issue of Woman's Day magazine.

"I saw the advertisement in the magazine and I thought, 'What the heck,' " she said.

Lend-a-Hand was among 1,000 organizations nationwide to receive a $25 packet of coupons for free food and one of 1,250 awarded a gift Care Bear.

When members of Lend-a-Hand heard of the Ramirezes' hardship--at that time Jeffrey was listed as critically ill in the hospital--the organization decided to help.

"They seemed like an appropriate family for what we had to offer," Mead said. "We realize there are probably 20 or more (families) who need it just as much, but this is all we could do."

The Ramirezes, who both work, said they appreciated Lend-a-Hand's kindness.

"With all of this and trying to get things together, we thought it was a really nice thing for them to do," said Lisa, explaining that neither she nor her husband had worked during Jeffrey's most recent hospital stay.

On Christmas Day, the Ramirezes plan to travel to Yorba Linda to visit Jeffrey's grandparents, who are looking forward to seeing him.

Looking at her only child as he played with his toys, Lisa Ramirez nodded and said: "He's a good boy."

She added that Jeffrey, who must use crutches to walk, is generally happy and helps cheer everyone else up. The boy manages to get around quite well, and likes to run and play with his classmates at John Tynes Elementary School, she said.

"He says he's not sad about (having to wear crutches)," the mother added. "He just wishes he didn't have them."

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