Florencio and Cresencia Peralta walk briskly through a light midday shower toward the assisted living center that’s been home to their son Kevin for the last four years. In contrast to the overcast sky and muted colors of Vancouver, British Columbia, the Peraltas are bright and enthusiastic. Twenty-seven-year-old Kevin lives at the George Pearson Centre in a quiet residential neighborhood south of the city. Though he requires round-the-clock professional care, no one ministers to him quite like his parents.
Kevin suffers from unresponsive wakefulness syndrome. Although he is conscious, he can barely respond to those around him. At most, he can blink, smile, and twist his head towards his mother’s voice. When not sleeping, he sits in a reclining wheelchair.
Despite his silence, Cresencia and Florencio know that their son is present, even listening. When they switch out his IV bag—a routine they learned to get him cared for more quickly—they see how it comforts him to have them near, attending to him. They, and the medical staff, are often in the dark when it comes to Kevin’s condition and prognosis. And though his improvements over the years have been small, the Peraltas are determined to do everything possible to see him responsive again.
Cresencia is energetic and talkative. When she speaks to her son, she leans close to his face, slowly enunciating, every word radiating warmth. Florencio is reserved, yet always near, holding Kevin’s hand or brushing a finger against his cheek to get his attention.
“Had it not been for Kevin, I don’t know if we would be as close to God as we are now,” says Cresencia. The Peraltas raised their family in the church, but Cresencia remembers Kevin paying the most attention. He was always eager to discuss the Scripture readings and homilies while she and Florencio barely gave them a thought once they were home. Kevin would ask questions, revealing his desire to know more about God and His Word. His parents shrugged off most inquiries, their faith remaining surface-level.
Near the end of 2014 Florencio, Cresencia, and their daughter Krystell began to notice odd behaviors and personality changes in Kevin. It began as simple lethargy, sometimes persistent headaches. Uncharacteristically, Kevin would disappear for hours instead of doing his chores or schoolwork, only to be found in his room, sleeping.
As the months passed, Kevin’s actions became more concerning. Working as a part-time barista during his schooling, he returned home one day after just an hour of work. Surprised to find him home, Florencio became troubled when Kevin couldn’t recall the reason he had clocked out early.
Further concerns led to a hospital workup. The medical staff quizzed him, stumping him when it came to his birthdate. Kevin nervously looked at his mother and asked, “Mom, can you help me?”
In his brain was a pituitary adenoma—a noncancerous growth within the skull. Kevin’s life-altering diagnosis shook the family. Cresencia furiously asked God why something like this could happen to a faithful person like Kevin and to a family who offered so much help to those around them. Years earlier, they had taken in a teenage friend of the family, caring for him through his cancer and chemotherapy.
“I was questioning God,” says Cresencia. “We did something good, and now this happens?” When bitterness and despair threatened to overwhelm them, Florencio and Cresencia found comfort and hope through Kevin.
“Whenever he saw me crying,” remembers Cresencia, “He would hold my hand and say, ‘Mom, have faith. Be strong for me.’”
Doctors removed 80% of Kevin’s tumor, while the remainder was deemed too dangerous to disturb. The doctors anticipated only slow growth of the tumor, and assumed that with treatment, Kevin could resume a normal life. But after the treatment, the tumor became aggressive, returning to nearly its previous size. The family anxiously sat through a second surgery. When it was over, Kevin had slipped into a state of unresponsive wakefulness.
In despair about Kevin’s unexpected decline, the family was left feeling hollow. They knew that God must have an answer for them, and that Kevin’s hope in Him should be honored, not forgotten. Cresencia began to reflect on their times in church. At the last service the family attended before Kevin’s second surgery, Paul’s thorn in the flesh was discussed (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The passage made an impact on Kevin, who told his parents he thought the verse could be applied to him—that his weakness from the illness was strengthening him and his family. That perhaps it would bring them closer to God.
Then one Sunday, while flipping through channels on the TV, Florencio discovered Dr. Charles Stanley and was struck by the calm authenticity with which he spoke. Florencio had always owned a Bible but rarely touched it. Perhaps what impressed him most was how often Dr. Stanley read from and held his Bible. It reminded him of his son’s enthusiasm for the Scriptures and the way Kevin applied its teachings to his life. “Now we pay more attention. We relate what we’re reading in the Bible to what’s going on in our lives. It opened our eyes.”
Cresencia recalls especially the lessons on trials and tribulations, which teach that we can walk with God even without all the answers. “I was drawn to Dr. Stanley as if he was the one God brought to me,” she says. In her lowest moment, she was reminded of her son’s faith and courage during the tumor diagnosis.
Cresencia and Florencio long to show Kevin the change his faith has made in their lives. Each evening as they prepare him for bed, they listen to praise and worship music. On Sundays they have church with Kevin, holding up their smartphone to play In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley.
When not at their jobs, the family spends nearly every minute in Kevin’s small room, which is crammed with his bed, chair, and health monitors. But plastered everywhere are photos of Kevin’s childhood, telling of the affectionate bond the Peralta parents share with their son and his sister Krystell. There is a soothing scent of lavender, and above the hum of a humidifier, worship music plays softly. Behind the bed, a bright neon poster board lists detailed handwritten instructions on how best to care for Kevin. “Krystell did that,” Cresencia says, beaming. “They were very close growing up. Krystell could be a tiger—especially when protecting her younger brother.”
By taking ownership of Kevin’s healthcare, the Peraltas have also become a blessing to both patients and medical attendants. They know the ins and outs of the facility as well as the challenges of living a new life under intensely difficult circumstances—all of which has allowed them to provide for others in similar situations. Sometimes that involves medical advice; sometimes it means providing meals for families new to the facility.
Their constant presence and generosity have also paved the way for sharing the gospel. “Everything opens up when the situation becomes personal,” says Florencio. “Once people realize we share similar circumstances, they will ask how we can still have a smile on our faces.” Cresencia and Florencio use their unique hardship to share the hope and peace Christ can bring, even—and especially—in the darkest moments they’ve experienced.
“Before Kevin was sick, I would hardly look at people who were sick or in a wheelchair,” says Florencio. “I would smile and walk by. But now God is using and shaping us to be able to love people who share experiences like our own.”
Saying good-bye to Kevin is always the most difficult part of their day. Florencio and Cresencia stand on opposite sides of his reclining wheelchair and drag out the departure as long as possible. Florencio holds Kevin’s hand while Cresencia speaks closely to his face, her hand softly stroking his cheek. They both bow their heads and pray beside Kevin, still holding him close. Though they’ll be back tomorrow, they can feel the distance when they are not near him.
Kevin’s future is as uncertain as his last four years. There are days when he is unresponsive and barely opens his eyes or acknowledges the voices of his parents and sister. There are also days when his face appears to be shining and responding to those around him.
But the faith that burns in the Peraltas for their precious son is all because of the spark that Kevin ignited in them four years ago. Though emanating from a small overcrowded room, the light from that spark illuminates everything it touches. “It’s really prayers and hope that he will recover,” Florencio says. “That is what we’re leaning on right now. Every day before Kevin’s surgery, he would tell us, ‘Have faith. Be strong for me.’” They’re determined not to let him down—and will be ready for him when he wakes.
Photography by Audra Melton