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Roberto and Estella's Story

Roberto was 17 months sober when he was the victim of an unimaginable attack—drugged with a substance suspected to contain fentanyl and abandoned in his car. His shoes, wallet, and other belongings were stolen. This life-altering experience left Roberto with a severe brain injury, requiring immediate and intensive medical care.

Roberto spent a month in the ICU before moving to an advanced specialty facility, and later an inpatient rehabilitation program. The outlook was uncertain; the facility physician deemed Roberto to be in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

Christopher Stieben, Director of ABLE’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, initiated an intervention by opening Roberto's case in July 2022, and addressing a wheelchair issue. Ombudsman Linda Bert began her involvement in August 2022 during a traumatic brain injury (TBI) presentation. It was through this experience that Linda thought of Roberto and his dire situation.

Connecting with Amy Lawson, a clinical case manager with the Ohio Brain Injury Program at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, ABLE’s Ombudsman team reached out to Roberto’s mother, Estella. Amy provided ongoing support, guiding Estella through the complexities of Roberto's care. Surprised by the lack of cognitive therapy, Amy coordinated specialized tests and consultations with neurologists.

Roberto's journey took a positive turn when he was accepted as an outpatient at the Wexner Medical Center in October 2022. Although no inpatient beds were available, this marked the beginning of a new chapter in his rehabilitation. Over the following months, Roberto made significant strides.

By October 2023, Roberto moved home to a one-story house in Fremont, Ohio, thanks to the Home Choice Program and Medicaid Waiver. In April 2024, he received a permanent medication pump and was admitted to an inpatient rehabilitation program later that week. Here, Roberto made remarkable progress.

Estella remains a pillar of strength. While providing most of Roberto’s home care due to a shortage of home health nurses, she pursued her education. Estella earned her Phlebotomy and Patient Care Technician certifications and is working towards her Medical Assistant Certification. Estella’s advocacy extends beyond her immediate circle. She started a Facebook group, which has garnered followers from across the country, as well as the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and Scotland. Her story was featured in Brain Alliance Arizona's article, "One Mother’s Mission to Shed Light on Raw Realities & Impact of Accidental Overdose on the Brain," by Ed Roth.

As for Roberto, we are pleased to report that he has been back home for over two weeks and is receiving intense outpatient physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, all set up by the inpatient rehabilitation program. Roberto has progressed enough that his speech therapist has set up a consultation for assessment to use eye-tracking technology to enable him to control his computer using eye movement. Roberto and his care team also have plans to remove his trach in December.

Roberto’s journey is a testament to the power of resilience, support, and unwavering love. His progress with rehabilitation continues, and Estella remains his relentless advocate and caregiver. Their story is one of hope, proving that even in difficult times, recovery and progress are possible.


About the author

Advocates for Basic Legal Equality

Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE) is a non-profit regional law firm that provides high quality legal assistance in civil matters to help eligible low-income individuals and groups in western Ohio achieve self reliance, and equal justice and economic opportunity.