A Van For Becky

When given an opportunity to fulfill a desire, Miguel Garcia, a 17-year-old San Marcos High School student born in Santa Barbara with a rare skin disorder called Epidermolysis Bullosa (E.B., for short), selected a van for his mother rather than anything for himself.

Last month, Miguel contacted the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, a local non-profit he has been involved with since the foundation first began. He asked if they could help him find a van for his family. He had never asked for anything before, so when this request came in, it was taken seriously. Having already spoken with Becky Arteaga (Miguel’s mom) and understanding the importance of a reliable van that the family simply could not afford, Teddy Bear got to work to see what it could do.

As a direct result of donations from Hugs for Cubs, Jessica and Randy Glick, Laura and Geof Wyatt, Devon Nielsen, Frank Schipper Construction Co., Jo and Barry Berkus, and Sharon Kayser (former owner of the van), funds were raised and Miguel surprised his family with the gift of the 2001 Oldsmobile Silhouette with 74,000 miles on the odometer and three rows of seats, good for seven.

It’s perfect,” says Becky, during a short telephone conversation, adding that, “It’s working just fine.”

Becky recounted the day she received the van: “Nikki called and said she was going to come by to bring some release papers so Miguel could attend an Angels game. When she came, she asked me to come outside, and there was the van in the driveway, with the side door open and the boys sitting in the car. It was a big surprise.”

Miguel has three older sisters, Michelle, Nicole, and Margarita, all in their twenties, and three younger brothers, Gabriel, Jesus, and Antonio, ages 6, 7, and 10. He lives with his mother, his brothers, and his stepfather, Jesus Arteaga. Miguel plays the drums, is a photographer, and an artist, and his favorite activities are those of any typical 17-year-old: listening to music and hanging out with friends, when he can.

When asked to describe his condition, Miguel explains that the disorder causes his skin “to be fragile to friction or bumping into things.” He says his skin is like a peach, while most people’s skin is like an apple. “If you rub the apple’s skin, it’s tough and doesn’t peal or come off,” he says, observing however that, “if you rubbed a peach, it tears and rubs right off.

“Basically, I’m missing the type of glue that holds the skin down,” Miguel continues. “E.B. causes me to be wrapped in bandages all over different parts of my body, like my hands, feet, thigh and arms. It also requires me to take a bath with bleach every other day for about thirty to forty-five minutes. I take off all the bandages and then soak and re-wrap my open lesions that need to be wrapped.

“I have no hands really,” Miguel says matter-of-factly. “E.B. caused me to lose my fingers, and I’m only left with one thumb on my right hand. But besides all the stuff that I deal with, I don’t let it get in my way or ruin my dreams and goals.” The disease also affects the inside of his body, like the esophagus and his eyes.

Guided by a tenacious will and his mother’s devotion, Miguel doesn’t waste time; he embraces his life and his capacity; he values the people in his life and pays attention to not only his own needs but the needs of others.

He lost his best friend in September, a 13-year-old boy named Joey who was afflicted with the same disease, and with whom Miguel spent time, including stints at Camp Wonder in Livermore where other kids with skin disorders “just go and swim and be themselves” under the watchful eyes of nearby doctors and nurses.

“I loved him so much,” Miguel says. “He was my E.B. brother that I always wanted.”

The following lines from a poem Miguel wrote for his English class express some of the pain Joey’s death caused:

‘I know I’m not the only person that suffers with what I’m going through

One of my best friends had the same skin disorder too

And he suffered just like me and even worse

But now I know he isn’t anymore

He is a free man and isn’t a prisoner anymore

And I know that for sure I will be a free man

Maybe not now

Or here

But somewhere where there is freedom

Where you can do anything

Be pain free

Move around any way I want

Be non-stared free

And to just be me’

As to what motivates Miguel, what keeps him inspired: “My family and friends,” he says, “and whenever I feel bummed out I think of other people that are worse off than I am. “

The mission of the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation is to ensure that children with cancer receive the undivided comfort of their parents during the treatment and recovery process. The Foundations seeks to achieve this by providing middle- to low-income families with financial aid for rent, mortgage, utilities, and car payments, as well as other supportive services.

If you’d like to learn more, please call 805-962-7466, or go online to: www.teddybearcancerfoundation.org.