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A mother's understanding of her son is transformed with a single phone call

Barbara Romero and her son Daniel.
Barbara Romero
Barbara Romero and her son Daniel.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

Everything changed for Barbara Romero and her husband around the time their son Daniel turned 12 years old.

As a young boy, Daniel was curious and silly. But as he entered middle school, his personality shifted.

"Now there was this tall, wild-eyed young man ... that was staying up all night talking to himself," Romero said.

It was difficult to know what would trigger Daniel. He started getting in trouble at school.

"He had a lot of stuff going on in his head, and if you interrupted that and got in the way, he would either get verbally very abusive or he'd be violent," Romero remembers.

Nothing Romero and her husband tried seemed to help. They took him to therapists and psychiatrists, but the behavior only got worse. Romero felt like she was failing as a parent.

"I used to just cry and cry and cry," Romero said.

Daniel went in and out of juvenile detention. One day, in 2005, Romero and her husband made the difficult choice to relinquish him to Child Protective Services.

"We made a decision to just maybe believe that somebody else could do better than we could," Romero said.

By giving Daniel over to CPS, Romero and her husband also gave up their rights as Daniel's parents. When the authorities came, they didn't tell the family where Daniel would be taken. After a few days, Romero was finally able to find the facility he was in. She called and was eventually connected with a woman who said something that changed her whole perspective on the painful situation.

"She said, 'Mrs. Romero, I am so glad you called. You have a very sick boy on your hands,'" Romero recalls. "And it was like right then somebody just put a blanket over my shaking shoulders, because for the first time somebody said that our son was not a bad kid. He was an ill kid."

The woman on the other end of the phone told Romero that it was time to stop trying to fix Daniel, because the only thing that would make him better was medication. Daniel, it turned out, had schizophrenia.

That phone call gave Romero the insight she needed to move forward.

"When I would want to think, 'Oh, I should have done this' [or], 'Maybe I'm the cause of this,' I remembered, 'No, he's sick,'" Romero said. "I guess that's how it changed my life ... I looked at it as an illness as opposed to something that he could change."

The Romero family had a long road ahead of them. But from that day forward, they were able to walk the path ahead of them with a better understanding of how to proceed.

"Because she was the person that gave me permission to stop punishing our son and start caring for him again," Romero said.

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Kwerel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Autumn Barnes

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