Chasing Hope

"Tito, Tito, my elbow," Jacqui moans. "It hurts me a lot."

Jacqui's sitting on the couch, her leg draped over her father's blue jeans, as she and Amadeo stretch her left arm.

They've just returned from Austin. After Reggie headed to prison, Jacqui and Amadeo returned to their Galveston apartment, back to la routina.

On the couch, Amadeo grips her elbow and wrist. Gently, he bends her left arm down to his lap, then up toward her chest.

The arm, which lost muscle and nerve, is withered. Together, Jacqui and Amadeo are trying to stretch and strengthen it.

"When you're burned," Jacqui says, "everything is difficult."

They huddle, their heads almost touching. Sometimes, as he pushes and lifts, she lays her head on his shoulder.

"Slowly, gently," Jacqui tells him.

They switch to her hands, twisting the wrist and trying to flex her finger stubs, which had fused together as she healed in the burn unit.

"Every day it's a little bit," Amadeo says. "In a month, it's only a millimeter. But in six months, that's 6 millimeters."

"Relax," he tells her.

Jacqui pulls her hand free and squeezes her father's nose.


She looks down at her pajamas and wants to fasten a button. Or she looks up at a kitchen cabinet and wants something inside.

There are two ways: Ask for help, or figure out how to do it alone.

She faces dependency everywhere — showering, using the bathroom, eating, dressing.

It feels like growing up again, she says, except you don't know if you ever will.

Sometimes she worries that she relies too much on her father. The path to independence is unclear and full of anxiety.

If she tries to do something and fails, she can fall into depression. If she succeeds, she worries that she will run out of goals.

She swallows her fears and pushes on.

"I'm very stubborn," she says.

With a sponge wrapped around her forearm, Jacqui washes, then dries herself. She dangles a toothbrush from her mouth and, manipulating it with her palms, cleans her teeth. She places her palm on the computer mouse and pain-stakingly types e-mails, selecting letters from an on-screen keyboard. Even now, she won't allow a typo.

Perfectionists, she's fond of saying, suffer a lot.

She works on the pajama button with her hands and teeth, biting, squeezing and pulling. After 30 minutes, she finally gets one button through its hole.

"I could, I could, I could," she says.


All his life, Amadeo has trusted in himself and his ability to solve problems.

"I've always been able to face any situation," Amadeo says. "I've always been a fighter."

Now, nothing is certain.

His days revolve around Jacqui. He doesn't know when he'll work again, and he has given up all hope for his own life.

They live off his savings, his investments and the money his brothers send from Climar. While he's been away, his business has stagnated, and the factory is losing money. In his absence, Climar's staff has shrunk dramatically. To save on expenses, he sold Jacqui's car.

Jacqui has no health insurance. She owed UTMB about $1.3 million. The State of Texas, which administers the hospital, later agreed to slash her bill to $450,000, her lawyer said.

By the summer of 2001, Amadeo estimates he has spent nearly $500,000 on living and travel expenses, therapies and other medical care.

After the wreck, Jacqui filed a lawsuit against General Motors, the maker of the Oldsmobile, claiming a fuel line design flaw caused the fire.

The Saburidos' lawyer, Craig Sico of Corpus Christi, said Jacqui would have escaped with only broken bones if the fuel line had been properly protected.

The Saburidos also sued Reggie Stephey, accusing him of causing the collision. Both lawsuits were settled in 2001 for an undisclosed amount. A spokesman for General Motors declined to discuss the lawsuit.

The cause of the car fire was never resolved in court.

Sico said he doesn't think the settlements will cover Jacqui's future expenses, which an expert he hired estimated will top $9 million. That estimate includes the cost of a caretaker — a role Amadeo now fills.

"What's going to happen when I die?" Amadeo wonders.

He can feel himself growing older. When midnight strikes on his 49th birthday, he's in the bathroom in Galveston, bathing his grown daughter.

He can't say whether he loves her more now. She needs him more, and you don't know how much you love someone until they need you.

"Love," he says, "is infinite, or it's not love."