You know when you are blessed. Right now, Maria and Francisco Fuentes of Nevada have that feeling.
Maria said she has no words to express her “extreme gratitude to everybody for the support they’ve given, the calls they’ve made… I just feel bad that I don’t have the English (skills) to express how truly grateful I am for everything that people have done for us.”
Her words for this story have been mostly spoken in Spanish through an interpreter, as she and her husband, Francisco, sat down last week at Mi Casita Mexican Restaurant on Nevada’s main street — where the two have worked for eight years — to talk about Francisco’s brush with death earlier this year.
Still not at full strength, Francisco is lucky to be alive. On Jan. 11, the 56-year-old, who Nevadans have grown to love as the soft-spoken manager of Mi Casita, was giving one of his employees a ride to Ames when his pickup was “t-boned” by a semi on Lincolnway between Nevada and Ames.
The impact was on the driver’s side and, while his passenger was not hurt, Francisco was critically injured in the crash.
What he remembers about that day, he said, is that he was taken by ambulance to Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames. “I feel a shove into my stomach … and they said, ‘Stay with me, stay with me’… I feel my body was so heavy.” Most of Francisco’s words are his own, and not given through an interpreter.
At Mary Greeley, Francisco had his first surgery immediately upon arrival. He had suffered internal injuries to his spleen and liver and the blood loss was severe.
Maria recalls that the doctor didn’t know if her husband would make it.
“In Ames, when his blood pressure was so low, everything looked very grave as they started a transfusion,” she said.
Blood transfusions continued as he was transferred by ambulance to Iowa Methodist, where he needed two more surgeries.
“He had so much hemorrhaging inside,” Maria recalled. She said doctors told the family that despite all that they were doing, it might not work.
“When they had him cut open, I was very nervous about that… but by the grace of God, he started to get better, and I’m very thankful to God that things started to improve,” she said.
Francisco was hospitalized for six weeks, then he moved to his brother’s house in Boone for a time, as he was still too weak to climb the stairs to his and his wife’s apartment in Nevada. His brother’s home didn’t have those steps.
Last week, Francisco was able to return to Nevada, as a friend offered that he could stay in their home until he’s strong enough to do the stairs.
He is currently making frequent visits to local doctor, Adrian Palar, for checkups.
Francisco is hopeful that soon he can be back at Mi Casita doing little things, and visiting with the community’s people, who he and his wife have come to love.
Facebook posts showing that support and love exploded with comments when Francisco was fighting for his life. The locals care greatly about this man, who hasn’t lived here a long time, but said Nevada has definitely become his home.
Now, several friends of the Fuentes pair — Jalene Hornbuckle, Evie Petersen, Missy Bauman and Denton Nissley — are organizing a benefit so that all those who have wanted to help the couple can do so. Even though they had insurance, they have still incurred many expenses during this challenging time.
The benefit, called Flapjacks For Francisco, will be held this Sunday, April 7, at Gatherings on Nevada’s main street (1024 Sixth St.), from 7-10 a.m. A free-will offering will be accepted, with all donations going to the Fuenteses.
“He (Francisco) needed help, so it’s the right thing to do,” said Hornbuckle. She said a lot of the helpers working at the benefit are employees of Mi Casita, giving of their time to make this possible. She also noted that many area businesses have generously provided food and other items to help with the benefit.
It’s all overwhelming for Francisco and Maria, who get emotional when they think of all the wonderful people who surround them in the community and at their workplace. Mi Casita is owned by Francisco’s brother, Martin, who along with another brother, Indalecio, or “Indy” for short, has stepped in at the Nevada restaurant to make sure that everything has been covered. Martin said staff at his other restaurant in Boone have graciously helped keep that restaurant going too, while Martin has been splitting his time between Nevada and Boone.
Maria wants to thank everyone — friends, family, coworkers. “Everyone has really stepped up,” she said, as Francisco nods his head in agreement and tears form in both Maria and Francisco’s eyes.
Martin tries to lighten the mood when asked if he’s excited that his brother is well and is planning to return to work soon.
“I need him,” Martin said with a big smile and a little laugh. “I need a day off!”
For anyone who is unable to attend Sunday’s benefit breakfast, but who would still like to help, donations may be dropped off at State Bank and Trust (1025 Sixth St. in Nevada) and checks may be written to: Francisco Fuentes Benefit Fund.
*Special thanks to Kim Huegerich, Nevada High School Spanish teacher, who provided translation during the interview for this story.