Father of three facing amputation finds crucial help to move ‘beyond this crisis’

Nelson Martinez in his family apartment in Sunnyvale, Calif., on Monday, November 25, 2019. Martinez is a Season of Sharing fund recipient and suffers from chronic type 2 diabetes, which had progressed to the point where his toe had to be amputated. There are limited resources and there is a lack of education for Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes in Santa Clara County. Most resources are based in San Jose, which is difficult for working families outside of San Jose, especially if transportation is a barrier. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

When doctors told Nelson Martinez he needed to have a toe amputated due to severe complications from chronic Type 2 diabetes, the 54-year-old felt his world shatter.

He had lost circulation in his toe and the resulting gangrene was at risk of spreading throughout his body. He needed immediate surgery.

Martinez, an immigrant from El Salvador and father of three, had worked for decades to put food on the table, often juggling two jobs to make ends meet. An amputation meant months of disability — and no income.

The thought of being unable to provide for his family terrified him. Alone in a hospital room in April, he contemplated suicide.

“I started feeling like I had no worth,” said Martinez in Spanish, through tears. “All the hard work I put in felt like it didn’t mean anything. I felt like that’s where my life ended.”

Before his amputation, Martinez had worked as a bowling equipment installer. But without a steady income, he and his wife, Blanca, started falling behind on their bills.

Martinez applied for disability benefits while Blanca picked up extra shifts as a housekeeper. But the benefits took some time to come through and the family needed help with their June rent.

They live in a two-bedroom apartment in Sunnyvale with their 16-year-old daughter, Nataly. The couple’s older children, Nelson, 27, and Stephanie, 24, no longer live at home.

With the help of Sunnyvale Community Services, which admitted the Martinezes into its program last spring, The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund stepped in to cover the rent in June so that they could remain in good standing with their landlord.

The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund works year-round to prevent homelessness and hunger in the nine-county Bay Area. Donations to The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund help thousands of people in the Bay Area throughout the year, with administrative costs covered by The Chronicle and the Walter and Evelyn Haas Jr. Fund. Assistance is in the form of grants paid directly to the supplier of services, such as a landlord.

“We want people to know that their help isn’t in vain,” said Martinez. “It helps our family. Their support and donations give us an immense help. We’re so thankful.”

At Sunnyvale Community Services, Martinez said he’s found hope — and the support of strangers who have stood by him during his darkest days. The organization provides financial support and food assistance to impoverished families faced with skyrocketing food prices and rent increases in Silicon Valley.

“I felt like I was with family,” said Martinez, recalling the moment he first walked into the center. “I wanted to release all the emotions I felt in my heart.”

“I see all the volunteers and how happy they are to help us,” he continued. “It’s a huge blessing to have them.”

The family participates in the organization’s Blue Card Pantry program, receiving sustainable, healthy groceries twice a month.

“The services that we’re providing to them, it helps them move forward beyond this crisis,” said Laura Munoz, the family’s caseworker.

“By helping them, they’re able to get some time to stabilize, for Nelson to recuperate as well and for them to find other resources and prevent them losing their housing.”

The organization has also helped Martinez obtain critical resources to treat his diabetes. There are limited services and a lack of education for diabetics and pre-diabetics in Santa Clara County, said Keisha Miller, program manager of client services at Sunnyvale Community Services. Most resources are based in San Jose, which is difficult for working families who live outside of the area, especially if transportation is a barrier.

“Santa Clara County is trying to get better — their health department is trying to provide more information,” said Miller.

“But there is still a lot of people who don’t know where they can go to get healthy food, where they can go to get their (blood sugar) checked, unless they’re paying a lot of money to get that done, if it’s not covered through their health insurance.”

Martinez’s surgery was a success and he has since started walking again with the help of physical therapy.

He expects to return to work in January, though the second company he works for will close in June, leaving him with only one job.

The couple is also mourning the recent death of Blanca’s mother, who was an integral part of the family.

Still, they have hope for the future.

“They helped me so much during the time of his surgery,” said Blanca Martinez.

“Right now, we’re in the same situation, but we’re moving forward thanks to the help of our community.”

Nelson Martinez said the help they’ve received has allowed him to feel more financially secure.

“I feel really good,” he said. “My outlook has changed. I want to continue living another 200 years, if God permits.”

Tatiana Sanchez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: tatiana.sanchez@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @TatianaYSanchez.

Read the full article at: https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Father-of-three-facing-amputation-finds-crucial-14930364.php

Help your Bay Area neighbors today by donating to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund: https://seasonofsharing.org/donate-now/. All administrative expenses are covered by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and the San Francisco Chronicle so 100% of your tax-deductible donation helps Bay Area residents in need.