Overland Park His eyes are closed, and he's wearing a self-satisfied smile, humming a high-pitched, happy hum.
Ricky Reyes rocks slightly in his bed and suddenly starts clapping. His palms and delicately long fingers make a series of surprisingly vigorous smacks.
This has been Ricky's life for 53 years, a boy who never grew up, watched over by parents who never gave up.
Since 1953, Ted and Herminia Reyes of Overland Park have cared for Ricky as one cares for an infant. Day after day, never leaving him alone, feeding him soft food, holding his cup to drink, changing his diaper.
Just months after Ricky was born, the Reyeses learned he was blind and had severe developmental disabilities. A surgical intervention didn't help.
Herminia and Ted vowed to take care of Ricky at home. They knew it was a decision not everybody would make, or should make, but they thought it was the right one. It was a choice that relentlessly shapes their daily routine and, amid strains, added a powerful bond to their family life.
Ricky can't tell them, exactly, but Ted and Herminia said they know what he likes. He loves it when Ted rubs his pale arms, legs and back with lotion. He loves Herminia's voice or at least her presence.
"I talk to him baby talk, and he smiles," she said. "I play music for him in English and Spanish. I call him Ricky Ricardo," she said with a laugh. "At night, I bless him with holy water and I say, 'Good night, Ricky, I love you.'"
Strength and faith
Ted and Herminia, now both 77, initially settled in Armourdale. They had four children after Ricky. The second, a boy, died shortly after birth. Ted worked at the General Motors Leeds plant; Herminia stayed at home. Money was never plentiful. If GM workers were on strike or if the family needed extra money, Ted painted houses and pumped gas.
In the 1970s their second child, Theresa, grew seriously ill with hepatitis and later died. During Theresa's illness, a social worker suggested that it was time to move Ricky to a nursing home to ease the strain on the family. Herminia and Ted asked their sons Joe and Ted Jr., adolescents at the time, what they thought. They didn't like the idea.
"We liked that Ricky was home," said Ted Jr., now 43.
"We basically said, 'He's our brother. Whether he can walk or talk or hear, he's our family,'" said Joe, 45.
Ted credits Herminia's strength and faith for holding the family together. They've been married 56 years.
Herminia in turn credits Ted's perseverance and help from the children.
Still, there have been low times for Herminia, who even now seldom gets a full night's sleep.
"I would start praying, 'God, help me; God, help me,'" she said. "Before I knew it, something lifted me. The Lord and the Blessed Mother have helped me all the way through."
50th birthday bash
It's hard to overestimate the dedication required to provide 24-hour care at home for a person with Ricky's disabilities, said Leona Therou, Ricky's physician and a pediatrician at Kansas University Hospital.
"Ricky can't relate to you visually," Therou said. "He doesn't sit or crawl and has to be moved and lifted. He's in diapers. He has to be fed and bathed. He has to be given seizure medication."
Therou recalled receiving an invitation to Ricky's 50th birthday party.
"They're hosting this birthday bash at Hayward's Bar-B-Que, and I was invited," she said.
The family hired a disc jockey and invited 60 people. Ricky was mostly unaware of the event, of course, but Herminia and Ted were determined to properly mark the milestone and to thank the people in Ricky's life.
Ricky's health has been good the past three years, Ted said. He continues to have occasional seizures, however, and they can be violent.
Therou said the family's care was a big reason Ricky was healthy into middle age.
"When you have a baby, there are no guarantees," Ted said. "We accepted taking care of Ricky, and we're going to do it to the end."