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Letters of Hope for Elizabeth Bouvia : Handicapped Students Point Out the Many Pleasures of Being Alive

Times Staff Writer

Yasu Shido got his first electric wheelchair the other day. The 9-year-old put his withered left hand on the control toggle and promptly crashed into a bookcase.

Yasu, who has cerebral palsy, has very limited control of his arms. Every movement is a struggle; the wheelchair veers from side to side but gets there. He is able to communicate through but a few sounds. But in his classroom at the Perez Special Education Center in Boyle Heights, with a teacher’s help, Yasu can write notes with a special machine.

Last week, Yasu wrote a letter to Elizabeth Bouvia, the 28-year-old cerebral palsy victim who wants to die. He worked more than an hour to write the letter, helped out by teacher Ruth Buell and teacher’s aide Enedina Orozco.

Dear Elizabeth

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I want you to live and try sushi. Miguel will take you.

An electric wheelchair is good. You can go where you want.

Love, Yasu

Buell told her orthopedically handicapped students about Elizabeth Bouvia as a current events lesson--about how she suffers from cerebral palsy and arthritis, and she doesn’t want to be fed by doctors and nurses.

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“She wants to starve herself,” Buell tells her class. “Is that something anyone in this room would ever do?”

“NOOOOOOOO!”

Only Yasu has trouble talking about his feelings in this classroom. The other children, ages 8, 9 and 10, said they couldn’t understand why anyone would want to die when life is so good and fun.

The students talked about what made life good. On the chalkboard Buell listed a few reasons that her students gave for living: love, the sun, babies’ smiles, Top Ramen noodles, chicken, music, friends, floating in a pool, peace and quiet, dinosaurs.

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As a class assignment, Buell had her students write letters to Bouvia.

Dear Elizabeth, I would like for you to live because it is fun hearing music.

And it is fun helping people.

Love, Merilyn

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Musical notes decorate Merilyn Nunez’s letter. She is a tiny, grinning pixie in a wheelchair. She was born very prematurely, and she just seemed to stop growing. Her condition mystifies doctors, Buell says.

It is a happy classroom. The children joke, sing songs and get into trouble.

Some, like Yasu and Merilyn, were born with their maladies. Tania Ortiz suffered meningitis in infancy and was left paralyzed from the waist down. Dantell Weston, who has cerebral palsy, walks awkwardly and must wear a helmet on the playground.

There is also Miguel Haro, who is handsome and bright and seems perfectly healthy. But of all the children in this classroom, Miguel’s life is perhaps the most precarious. A serious heart condition makes every day fragile and often painful.

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Dear Elizabeth,

I hope you live your life. Theres so much to live for. I had pain last week but now I feel better. and I hope you feel better.

Love, Miguel Haro

P.S. you can go to museums to see dinosaurs and art .

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Some of these students remember a time, not long ago, when they were in good health. Alex Gomez and David Martinez, a pair of jokers, were both seriously injured in car accidents.

Jorge Godinez was in fine health until last summer. Somehow, he got in the way of violence on his neighborhood streets and became a victim of a not-uncommon phenomenon, “the drive-by shooting.” The school’s principal checks Jorge’s health record and learns that the bullet is still lodged in the boy’s brain.

He is “slower,” Buell says, because of the shooting. Sometimes, he uses it as an excuse.

“Whenever he forgets his homework,” Buell says, grinning at Jorge’s wiles, “he tells me it’s because he got shot.”

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Dear Elizabeth

I don’t want you to die. I want you to live. There are many things that are good. I like hamburgers, floating in a pool, reading books and listening to stories.

I like you.

Love, Jorge

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