Couple faces health challenge while caring for grandchildren

Kathy Casey Gutierrez, to most who know her, is a soft-spoken hairstylist at A-1 Hair Designs off Sunshine Grove Road.

The 67-year-old Spring Hill resident has learned how to hide her pain.
Kathy Casey Gutierrez

Life, they say, doesn’t give you more than you can handle. But on some days Gutierrez wonders if anyone is keeping count.

She and her husband, Jose, are raising their two grandchildren.

Their granddaughter, 12-year old Bless Casey, was 5 when her father no longer could care for her. And six years ago their 28-year old daughter was killed in an automobile crash on Spring Hill Drive. Her son, Joey, was 3.

The Gutierrezes, married 30 years, teamed up to raise the children despite dreams of a quiet retirement after both had worked hard all their lives. “They’re our grandchildren,” Kathy Gutierrez says. “They have no one else.”

Then, two years ago, Jose began having problems with his vision after recovering from pneumonia. He kept working, hiding his symptoms. He later mentioned he was having trouble seeing. At one point Gutierrez realized how serious it was. “He almost crashed the car,” she says.

A blood test revealed kidney failure. His organs were beginning to shut down.

“They told us he would have died if he’d waited much longer,” Kathy Gutierrez says, her face stoic.

Her husband went on dialysis and, from his home, clears the fluids from his body that his kidneys no longer can handle. He had to quit working and the family relies entirely on Kathy Gutierrez’s income from the salon. Jose Gutierrez watches their granddaughter during the day. And after working a long shift, Kathy takes over the children’s care.

It hasn’t been easy, she said. Bless Casey is dealing with school and normal adolescent challenges. Kathy struggles to help her without much support.

Jose Gutierrez, placed on a waiting list for a new kidney, is running out of time. Unless the couple can raise $6,000 for a one-year supply of anti-rejection drugs by Saturday, Kathy Gutierrez says, her husband’s name will be removed from the list.

A collection jar, placed on the counter at A-1 Hair Designs, had collected $38 by the end of last week.

Bonnie Johnson, owner of A-1 Hair Designs, says she cries inside when thinking about her friend who has worked with her at the shop for years. “She has too much on her plate,” Johnson says. She has watched Kathy Gutierrez bond with clients, opening up her heart with little protective filter. “She’s a wonderful person,” Johnson says.

In an effort to help, Johnson suggested a benefit car wash where she and Kathy will give haircuts for donations. The event is planned for Saturday at Advance Auto Parts at the corner of Cortez Boulevard and Sunshine Grove Road. The stylists will cut hair from 8 a.m. until noon.

Raising two grandchildren was difficult enough for the Gutierrezes to manage. But the couple sacrificed and did what they knew was the only thing they could do.

After the death of their daughter, and still mending from the heartache, they now face this latest challenge. Jose Gutierrez never considered the possibility he might get sick.

But the couple are strong, resourceful and hopeful the community will help them keep Jose on the transplant list. They don’t expect to meet the $6,000 goal with one benefit car wash, but it’s a start.

“We are hoping we can show that we are trying,” Kathy said.

For more information on how to help, contact Bonnie Johnson at (352) 398-3346.

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