Can you imagine having no control of your body except for your eyes? My brother Jairo is in such a predicament. Yet, he enjoys a meaningful life. Before I explain why he has found his life to be worth living, let me tell you his story.
Jairo was born with a type of cerebral palsy called spastic quadriplegia.* As a result, he has no control over most of his body. His brain cannot send clear signals to his muscles, so his limbs twist, or writhe, uncontrollably. Sometimes, Jairo’s unpredictable jerking movements even cause him to hurt himself. People nearby may also get hurt if they are not alert. Sadly, his arms and legs must often be tied to his wheelchair to prevent such accidents.
PAINFUL PATH TO ADULTHOOD
Jairo’s physical growth has been very painful. When he was three months old, he started to have seizures that left him unconscious. All too often, Mum would hold him tightly and rush him to the hospital, convinced that he was dead.
Because of all the tightening and contracting, in time Jairo’s bones became deformed. At the age of 16, he dislocated his pelvis and required major surgery to his thigh, hip, and pelvis. I still remember Jairo crying out in pain every night during his recovery.
Jairo’s severe disability makes him totally reliant on others to carry out daily functions, such as eating, getting dressed, and getting to bed. Mum and Dad usually perform these tasks. Though Jairo needs constant help, our parents always remind him that his life depends not only on humans but also on God.
A WAY OF COMMUNICATION OPENS
Our parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they have been reading Bible stories to Jairo ever since he was a baby. They always knew that life is more meaningful when one has a relationship with God. Jairo was trapped in a frail body that jerked continually, but he could have a bright, solid hope for the future. However, they often wondered if Jairo could grasp Bible knowledge.
One day, when Jairo was a child, Dad asked him, “Jairo, can you please talk to me?” Then he added, “If you really love me, you will!” As Dad begged him to say at least one word, tears welled up in Jairo’s eyes. Though he tried to express his feelings with words, he could only mutter guttural sounds. Father felt bad for having made Jairo cry. But that reaction showed that Jairo understood what Father had said. The problem was that he could not speak.
Before long, our parents noticed that Jairo at times moved his eyes rapidly in an apparent attempt to convey his thoughts and feelings. It was frustrating for Jairo that he could not always make himself understood. But when my parents learned to decipher his eye signals and get him what he needed, Jairo’s face would beam with a broad grin. It was his way of saying thank you.
A speech therapist suggested that for better communication, we should raise both hands in the air when asking him a yes-or-no question. The right hand means yes, the left hand no. Thus, he could express his wishes by fixing his eyes on the proper hand.
A MILESTONE IN JAIRO’S LIFE
Three times a year, Jehovah’s Witnesses hold assemblies and conventions, where Bible talks are presented to large audiences. Jairo always got excited during the talk that was addressed to baptism candidates. One day, when Jairo was 16, Father asked him, “Jairo, do you want to get baptized?” At once, his decisive look at Dad’s right hand revealed his desire to take that step. Then Dad added, “Have you promised God in prayer to serve him forever?” Once again, Jairo gazed straight at Dad’s right hand. It was clear that Jairo had already dedicated his life to Jehovah.
After several Bible discussions, it was also clear that Jairo understood the significance of Christian baptism. So, in 2004, he answered the most important question he was ever asked, “Have you dedicated yourself to God to do his will?” Jairo answered this question by raising his eyes upward. It was his prearranged way of saying yes. Thus, at age 17, he got baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
EYES FOCUSED ON THE THINGS OF GOD
In 2011, a new way to communicate opened up for Jairo—an eye-controlled computer. This device tracks the movements of his iris so that he can activate icons on the screen. Blinking or staring at an icon is like clicking a mouse on a computer. A board consisting of pictograms was created to help Jairo communicate. When he blinks at one of them, the built-in software converts a written message into an electronic voice.
As Jairo’s understanding of the Bible increased, so did his desire to help others spiritually. During our weekly family Bible study, he often looks back and forth between me and his computer. This is his way of reminding me that I should write down comments that he can offer during question-and-answer sessions at meetings of our Christian congregation.
At the meeting, he patiently navigates through the screen to click on the appropriate icon, and then his electronic voice is heard by everyone. He smiles broadly every time he encourages the members of the congregation in this way. Alex, one of Jairo’s young friends, observes, “It always impresses me when I hear Jairo’s comments on a Bible subject.”
Jairo also uses his eyes to tell others about his beliefs. One way he does this is by clicking a pictogram that portrays a garden where animals and people of all races live in peaceful conditions. When he activates this, his computer voice proclaims, “The hope of the Bible is that the earth will be a paradise where there will be no more sickness and death, Revelation 21:4.” If the listener shows interest, another click causes his computer to say, “Would you like to study the Bible with me?” Surprisingly, our grandfather accepted this invitation. It is thrilling to see Jairo, assisted by a fellow Witness, slowly teaching Grandpa the Bible! Happily, Grandpa got baptized at the regional convention in Madrid in August 2014.
Jairo’s devotion to God does not go unnoticed by the teachers at his school. Rosario, one of his speech therapists, once confessed: “If I ever thought about joining a religion, I would become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have seen how Jairo’s faith has given him a real purpose in life, despite his difficult situation.”
Jairo’s eyes always light up when I read him the Bible’s promise: “The lame will leap like the deer, and the tongue of the speechless will shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35:6) Although he does get discouraged at times, he is generally in good spirits. This is possible only because his life revolves around God and around his Christian friends. His cheerful outlook and strong faith are a testimony that serving Jehovah makes a challenging life worth living.
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a general term used to describe brain damage that affects mobility. It can also lead to seizures, eating disorders, and speech impairment. Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe type of CP; it can result in the stiffness of all four limbs and a floppy neck.