LENOX -- Porfirio Gomez's tribulations may soon draw to a close.
About lunch time on April 4, 28-year-old Gomez and his 16-year-old brother Abelino grabbed a ride with Jacobo Garcia to go to the Western Union office to wire money back to their family in Mexico.
Porfirio said they saw the train as they approached the railroad tracks on Central Avenue in Lenox, but Garcia thought he could beat it. He didn't.
The extent of Garcia's injuries isn't known, but they were not enough to keep him from fleeing the accident scene on foot. So far as Porfirio knows, he has not been apprehended.
Porfirio, who lived in Norman Park at the time of the wreck, was banged up. He spent two days in South Georgia Medical Center. He still suffers headaches and cannot lift heavy objects, limiting his ability to do the farm work that brought him to America. Even so, he was lucky.
Young Abelino was not. Thrown from the car by the train's impact, he suffered severe injuries. He fell into a coma. SGMC staff put him on life support and told Porfirio his brother was "brain dead."
The Gomezes lived in a small Indian village in southern Mexico, nearer to Guatemala than to most cities in their own country. Education is scarce. The native language is an Indian dialect; Porfirio barely speaks Spanish, let alone English.
He had no way to understand "brain death." Either his brother was alive or he was not.
The hospital staff wanted Porfirio to decide his brother's fate -- to let him continue on life support or to turn the machines off and let him die. Porfirio wanted Abelino to live, really live, and the hospital staff could not communicate to him that that was never going to happen.
Porfirio did the only thing he knew to do: Call home and ask for help.
But the family couldn't come without assistance. They'd have to travel the length of Mexico, sneak across the border to Texas, then cross five states without encountering law enforcement that would send them home. With their meager savings, it could not be done.
But Porfirio had friends he didn't even know he had. As outreach workers learned of his plight, an effort to help coalesced. It involved the Ellenton Clinic, the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta, the Hispanic ministry of Open Bible Church in Valdosta, U.S. immigration authorities, the Farm Workers Clinic in Valdosta and one or more financial donors.
Porfirio's brother Eduardo and their father, Juan Encino Gomez, will leave their village and ride a bus to Ciudad Juarez on the Mexico-U.S. border, arriving June 21. The consulate has arranged humanitarian visas to get them across the border. Another bus will then take them to Valdosta. They'll be housed at an apartment owned by Julie Clapp, the clinic coordinator of the Farm Workers Clinic in Lake Park.
Clapp is collecting the money to help them to do this. She has already received $1,500, which paid for the men's passports and tickets for them to get to Ciudad Juarez with about $300 left over. More is needed to get them to Valdosta and then to get them home again.
"It's been a really hard battle," Clapp said, "but we're going to meet the goal of getting them to Valdosta."
Anyone wishing to make donations can send check or money order to Clapp at Open Bible Church Hispanic Ministries (Abelino Gomez), 4099 Old Naylor Road, Lake Park, GA 31636.
While all this activity was going on to bring his family, Abelino did an unexpected thing. He opened his eyes.
Porfirio was overjoyed. He reached out to touch his brother's hand. The flesh was hard.
Porfirio still could not understand. If Abelino had opened his eyes, he was getting better, right?
Maybe, but not necessarily.
Abelino is now disconnected from some of the life support devices. He cannot move. He cannot speak. He cannot feed himself, so the feeding tube remains in place.
Dr. Felix Valdez, a specialist in internal medicine at the Farm Workers Clinic, said he doubts Gomez will recover. He is still in a coma, even though he can open his eyes and move in response to a touch. His mind cannot focus, he can't communicate and he can't respond appropriately to stimuli, Valdez said.
"He cannot put thoughts together because the upper part of the brain is damaged," he said.
Clapp said the workers involved in the case are concerned what Abelino's family will be able to do once they get to Valdosta. With their limited education and finances, she doubts they can find a suitable nursing facility in Mexico; they may not even know how to look for one.
Porfirio said his brother's health has begun to deteriorate since he opened his eyes.
He only hopes his family gets here soon.