Richard Pimentel: How I Saved Myself (and Three Foster Children)
By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & InsuranceŽ
CHICAGO---Earlier this year, workers' comp and disability consultant Richard Pimentel received a phone call that would turn his family's world upside down. State foster care experts asked the Pimentel family whether they would be willing to take in three children given up by their grandmother for adoption.
The children were disabled, suffering from the effects of methamphetamine and marijuana in their bloodstreams, inherited from their parents at birth. Pimentel, with stepchildren 16 years old and 12 years old, along with a 9-month-old infant, eventually said yes.
Why? Because without bonding with parents, experts told Pimentel, the three children would be lost. They'd never been touched, never been coddled, hardly even been properly fed.
And there were the searing images from Romanian orphanages that will remain etched in Pimentel's mind until the day he dies: orphans, now teenagers, taken in by the former Communist state, rocking back and forth in a zombie-like state because they were left for dead.
"I saw kids with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, down syndrome, kids with no social interaction, now teens, sitting in a very large room in a chair, and they rocked back and forth," said Pimentel, who was recently sent abroad to Romania on behalf of the U.S. State Department. "That's all they do because they've learned to stimulate themselves by rocking because there was no one to stimulate them as babies. I couldn't get that image out of my mind."
If Pimentel could avoid that scenario for three American children in desperate need of care, he thought, it would be enough to change their lives forever.
So Pimentel, a resident of Idaho, took in the children for what was supposed to be a two-month stay until the state could find one suitable family for all three children. The three kids are still with him, and all doing much better: cuddling, bonding, eating and interacting with other people.
Pimentel, a senior partner with the workers' comp and disability firm of Milt Wright & Associates in Granada Hills, Calif., recounted the anecdote during the keynote address on ethics and good decisions Thursday, titled " "Staying True to Your Soul: Making Tough Business Decisions You can Live With," on the second day of the 18th Annual National Workers' Compensation and Disability ConferenceŽ & Expo in Chicago.
NOT DISABLED AT ALL
The talk centered around the ostracism of the disabled and how people with disabilities are really not all that disabled at all, when given the opportunity to thrive and properly managed.
"You realize about the good decisions that you make and the good ones you're going to make in the future regardless of what the stakes are on the table, and you realize who you've really saved," said Pimentel, speaking to more than 500 workers' comp and disability managers.
Kaylee, less than 2 years old, has had to be swaddled and held 24 hours a day, he said.
"For three months, I held her in a rocking chair, and she cried 24 hours a day, and that's OK because I'm deaf and I thought we had a relationship," said Pimentel, eliciting laughs from the audience.
The next oldest, three-and-a-half-year-old Maddy, has developed a vocabulary of 50 words and is speaking in complete sentences. The eldest, Annalee, shares food with her sisters and "is the brightest child in her Head Start program," said Pimentel.
State foster-home officials are still looking for a suitable family for the girls, and when it comes time to take them away, it will be hard for the Pimentel family to part with the girls.
In the end, Pimentel will be able to rest--or rock--assured that he'll have done the right thing, and that he and his family, thanks to a little attention and love, may very well have saved the lives of three disabled foster children, certainly a decision the Pimentels will be able to live with the rest of their lives.
(Click here to read all of our other coverage from the
Annual National Workers' Compensation and Disability ConferenceŽ
November 19, 2009
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