My name is Dino Serra, brother of Victor Serra. Victor is currently 42 years of age. I am currently 40 years of age. Victor’s diagnoses include severe mental retardation with autism & epileptic seizures. He has required full-time adult supervision with all activities of daily living since he was born. He is unable to fully communicate or be cognizant of others.
We both grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico (PR). Our parents both worked full-time in order to make ends meet. Our grandmother in PR would take care of us when our parents were not available due to work or other matters. As a youngster at my grandmother’s, I would play wrestling with Victor. I was a big fan of the televised wrestling events. Victor was not an active participant in our wrestling games, as he had no concept of it. I had to improvise with him and pretend he was “attacking” me. It made for some fun times, although I never could tell if he was really enjoying it due to his disabilities and the inability to communicate. This was just an opportunity for me to pretend like I had a normal older brother.
Public appearances were rare for us as a family. I believe now it was mostly due to my parents’ unrest and anxiety that Victor would act up in public. This was the late 1970s and 1980s, a time when autism was still an unknown entity, especially in PR. My brother’s outings mostly consisted of going to school and to my grandmother’s, as well as my relatives’ homes. At a younger age, we did have beach outings in PR. He seemed to really enjoy the warm Caribbean ocean and waves. However, as Victor got older, those beach outings stopped. My guess would be that Victor was getting bigger and stronger, thus harder to physically control, especially for my aging parents.
My own behavior during grade school was that of a normal student, with an occasional report of misconduct from my teachers to my parents. My parents would punish me, but they also informed my teachers of my brother. They tried to explain to my teachers that I was essentially an only child because I could not play with Victor. According to my parents, I would be so excited to be in school, with kids like me, that my behavior would become disruptive.
I was very fortunate growing up. I loved playing sports and was involved in little league baseball and summer camps. I made many friends as a result. They would come over to my house to play and I would go to their house as well. My friends and their parents seemed to be very understanding of Victor. My friends knew he was “special” and did not make fun of him. Had they made fun of him, they would not have been my friends and a fist fight would have probably ensued.
On March 25, 2010 my mother passed away. She was 67 years of age. The victim of breast cancer, she had lived for about five years after the initial diagnosis, mastectomy, and chemotherapy sessions. The reappearance of the cancer was too much for her body to take. She died on the arms of my aunt, her younger sister, on a hospital bed in PR. My dad managed to see her the night before her death. One of my cousins was able to stay with Victor while my dad visited with my mom. She was never able to say goodbye to Victor, or myself for that matter. I was in the process of flying from Philadelphia, PA to PR when she passed away. I landed in PR six hours after her passing. Death came fast for her shortly after being hospitalized.
With my mother’s passing, my 80 year old father was left as Victor’s primary care giver in PR. Although he was 80 years of age at the time, my father was in fairly good health. However, there was no set plan for Victor’s future. My father is originally from Philadelphia, PA and I knew it was time for him to return. My mother always wished Victor could get on a plane from PR and fly to Philadelphia, PA. She believed there would be better opportunities for him in Philadelphia, PA. With the help of my wife, we were able to make this happen and on August 1, 2010 we all landed in Philadelphia, PA.
After all the proper medical and financial paperwork we were able to get Victor established and eligible for benefits. On February 14, 2011 (Valentine’s Day) he was admitted and welcomed as the newest resident of Allegheny Valley School (AVS). He has lived at AVS’s Girard Avenue group home since then. A picture of my mother with Victor hangs by Victor’s bed. She is wearing a head piece to hide her balding head from the chemotherapy. Her earthly duties remain the same, to care and watch over Victor.
Part of my mother’s obituary published in the PR newspaper and translated from Spanish reads as follows “You fought until the end, beyond your exhaustion, all for the wellness of your dear son, Victor.” I have been asked before if I was ever jealous of all the attention my brother received growing up. I never was because I was too busy learning from him how to love and care for another human being.