A 28-year-old Brigham Young University-Idaho student can't dress himself, use the restroom himself or clean himself -- even breathing can be difficult.
When Cesar Ibanez left his home in Kennewick, Wash., to study biology at BYU-Idaho, the man with spinal muscular atrophy stayed in assisted-living and traveled to and from campus by a university-provided bus. But Idaho's Post-Register (via the Twin Falls Times-News) reported this bus service was discontinued.
While Ibanez's life away from home could have become more difficult, a group of men who became his roommates took it upon themselves to help their fellow classmate.
Cesar Ibanez (center) relies on his roommates to help him while he attends BYU. (Image source: Facebook)
At a Mormon church social group meeting, Ibanez met Trevor Morrill, Gunner Christensen, Jeffrey Hansen, Trevor Rubio, Jacob Justice and Jake Christensen.
“When I met Cesar, right off the bat I wanted to get to know him,” Morrill told the Post-Register. “I’d never been around someone with a disability, and I wanted to know more about Cesar, what he’s gone through in his life … and I didn’t want him to ever feel like he wasn’t included.”
When the group learned Ibanez's temporary housing situation was up and that he couldn't find an apartment close to campus, “Jake insisted that I move in with him,” Ibanez said.
"It really was an act of faith … and it became so much easier when we learned to really love Cesar," Rubio told the Post-Register of the men taking on the task of caring for Ibanez without knowing quite what they were getting into.
Ibanez told TheBlaze he was both grateful and nervous for what his friends volunteered to do.
"I was definitely grateful because to ask me to move in with you is a huge thing because of the amount of responsibility," Ibanez said. "The work that’s involved because they're being roommate and caregiver is like taking on another job."
Ibanaez said that he has had others offer to help him before, but after a while they drop off due to the amount of work.
"Here I have these guys that don’t seem to tire and enjoy helping me and being involved with me," Ibanez told TheBlaze.
Here's more from the Post-Register detailing some of the daily help Ibanez receives from his roommates:
Soon it became a routine full of lighthearted humor.
“The shower is pretty physical — there are no barriers, because there can’t be,” Ibanez said. “But the more you interact with the person that is helping you, the closer you get because it’s an intimate moment. I know it sounds weird … and we joke around a lot … but we really have become closer.”
Life with Ibanez isn’t always lighthearted, though. One night, when he was fighting a cold, his roommates awoke to find he hardly could breathe. They stayed by his side and administered medication until his strength came back.
“We’ve reached a point where we would drop anything to go to Cesar,” junior Jake Christensen said.
Coming to the U.S. from Mexico at age 10, Ibanez could not walk well. The Post-Register reported that doctors did not expect him to live to adulthood as the genetic disease attacks nerve cells and can make him more susceptible to illness. As the disease progresses, the muscles weaken to a point where he can still feel but cannot control his movements.
Catch a glimpse of Ibanez's personality in this video, which is a feature for the university's charity date auction:
Earlier this year, Ibanez shared his perspective on having spinal muscular atrophy.
“I have been given a weakness, and I have been able turn it into a strength,” Ibanez told BYU's iComm. “It has helped me experience more and see more because I have been given these challenges.”
“The only things that are difficult are the things that I, myself, make difficult,” Ibanez continued. “It’s all about the attitude you have. If you think something is going to be difficult, that’s exactly what it will be.”
In addition to helping him around the house, Ibanez's roommates also walk four blocks with Ibanez to class but hope to raise enough money for a handicap-accessible van to transport him comfortably as winter gets underway. They also hope that staying out of the cold will help Ibanez avoid sickness.
“It scares me seeing him go in the morning because I know how easily he could pick up a cold, and it would have really big consequences,” Christensen told the Post-Register. “That is why we need this van so quickly.”
Not only sickness, but Ibanez told TheBlaze wheelchairs and heavy snow don't necessarily mix well.
Check out Ibanez's fundraising page.
This story has been updated to include more information.