Custodio Guzman celebrated his 55th birthday Oct. 1, surrounded by many who helped him rebound from a devastating illness that had left him paralyzed on Christmas Day 2018.
An otherwise healthy and fit gardener, Guzman suddenly came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. What began with numbness and weakness in his hands progressed over two days, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. His condition was correctly diagnosed at Sequoia Hospital, where he spent a month before being transferred to Seton Hospital for another two months. The whole family came too, bringing air mattresses and sleeping on the floor.
“Right after we got home from school we changed and then we’d go to the hospital,” son Jose, recalls. “Every day. I think it just comes from what my parents taught me. You’ve got to take care of your family.”
Custodio Guzman returned that spring to the two-bedroom apartment in east Redwood City where he lives with wife Maria Jimenez and four sons, Jose, Kevin, Christian and Jesus (now ages 15, 17, 19 and 21). He had help from a physical therapist for about a month, but it’s thanks to his family, friends and neighbors—and a steadfast determination to get back on his feet—that he was able to get out of bed and walk again.
Neighbor Bonnie Miller says people in the community rallied around Guzman. One gave him an unneeded hospital bed that was moved into the first floor of his apartment. His wife became his fulltime caregiver. Miller and City Councilmember Janet Borgens, who lives in the same Friendly Acres neighborhood, serve on the Salvation Army board. Though rental assistance funds were low, the Army covered the family’s $1,500 rent for three months. Church members also helped out at a hamburger fundraiser at Spinas Park, which raised another $1,900. Borgens also visited the bedridden Guzman to help him with his physical therapy and instructed his sons what to do as well. She even managed to secure a motorized scooter for him and bought a new battery for it.
Regaining strength and muscle tone has been a slow process, manipulating fingers, raising up on an overhead pulley, then transitioning to a wheelchair and a walker. Braces securing Guzman’s lower legs have helped, and he’s been able to walk since January 2020. He can get from his apartment to Marsh Road, about a mile unaided. The last vestiges of impairment are his curled fingers and toes, and Guzman can’t return to his work and support his family until that comes back. Maria works as a motel maid and two sons also have jobs.
Like many Mexican immigrants who settled in Redwood City, Guzman came 21 years ago from Michoacán.
“They lived in poverty in Mexico and just came for a better life and to work,” according to Jose, who translated for his parents.
Dire as his condition was, Guzman always had hope he’d recover and he thanks God, his wife, family and friends—Miller and Borgens in particular – for sticking by him on his journey back. “It’s crazy what happened,” Jose adds … “I feel like this made us a stronger family because we were all there for my dad. It just brought us all closer together.”