A Dedicated Life
Personality of the month
By Sandra Ríos
Luz Maria Maxwell, known as Lucha Maxwell, is a woman full of energy and vitality at 98 years old. She is still involved as far as possible in the rehabilitation center she founded, formerly CENCRE, and now bearing the name CRISMA. She is equally passionate about her family and, with her husband Robert Maxwell, enjoys her children and grandchildren.
Sandra Ríos: Where were you born and what did you study?
Lucha Maxwell: I was born in Mexico City, and I studied up to the third year of medicine at UNAM. When I reached the third year, I did not like going to practice in the hospital because I saw people suffer and I was unable to help them. So I decided to work on another degree to make me feel more comfortable and helpful. I found physiotherapy, and I really liked it. It is about recovery, helping people to stand up. I decided to study for this degree.
SR: Where did you work after studying physiotherapy?
LM: At the English Hospital in Mexico City, from where I was sent on scholarship to study in Georgia, United States, for two years for a major in physical therapy. When I returned to the hospital, I was asked to start a recovery department because at that time one did not exist. So I started to work and organize the children’s department for recovery in the Hospital Inglés.
SR: When did you get married?
LM: I was doing therapy for patients. One of them was very difficult. He was being treated for a year, and we understood each other very well. One of the patients in the hospital told me, “What has happened is that you are in love with each other and do not know what to do with the package.” My (future) husband Roberto had polio and was recovering quite well. He used both crutches and a wheelchair, and I proposed marriage. He is a painter.
SR: How did you come to live in San Miguel?
LM: We decided to come to San Miguel because my husband had worked before with Mrs. Nell Harris at the Instituto Allende as master of landscape painting. When we got here, the same job was offered to him, but because of the difficulties of travel to the mountains and painting while on crutches, it was no longer possible for him to continue working there. And I was doing physiotherapy treatments at Taboada. When I got pregnant and had a miscarriage precisely because of my work at the pool, the doctor told me that if I wanted to have a family, I would have to take a break from my work. We were really up in the air, because neither had money nor work.
SR: What was San Miguel like when you came to live here?
LM: The town was very safe. You could walk at 3 or 4 in the morning without problems, and the people were very friendly. Now it is no longer the same. If you want to go out at night, you have to be very careful. There are many assaults and kidnappings, mostly of people with money. That was not here in San Miguel before.
SR: And how did you manage?
LM: The mother of a little patient I treated at the English Hospital had a very large store in Mexico City. We had kept in touch, and she told me not to worry: they could give me the crafts that they sold in Mexico City and send them to San Miguel. At that time there were no craft shops here. We opened the shop in our garage. Once we begin to grow, we rented a property on Canal Street, and then rented a house. We moved to what became the Maxwell House, and it was a success.
SR: How many children and grandchildren do you have?
LM: I have two sons, Dr. Robert Maxwell, who lives in San Miguel, and Ana Maria Maxwell who is a psychiatrist living in DF. From my daughter Anita, who married, I have a granddaughter, Mariana, who just turned 16 years and is doing very well. My twin grandsons from Dr. Maxwell will be 7 years old in January. Mauricio is a dynamo and Rodrigo loves drawing. The two are very good at schoolwork.
SR: How did you come to found the CENCRE in San Miguel?
LM: When I came here I realized that nobody cared for disabled children. I started to treat and teach mothers about how to care for them. That was my profession and what I liked. We started in a borrowed house that had a garden. We cared for all kinds of disabilities, such as blindness, deafness, and effects of polio. There really was a lot of demand. We also began to seek volunteers who knew something of nursing to help me with the children. We began with the CENCRE in a house on Calzada de la Luz. Later, we moved to the house that was once the Inquisitor’s House. After a while, the owners donated it to us. We sold it and moved to the building where we are now, on Zamora Ríos 6. At that time we already had staff ready for physiotherapy, as I sent many of them to take courses. We had parties to raise money and improve the house, so soon we started as a school and rehabilitation center for disabled children.
SR: Do people pay for these services at the CENCRE?
LM: We already had people in the office and a board and we had a set fee. A socioeconomic study was done. Although moms paid according to their budget, we gave the same treatment to everyone, regardless of what they paid. There was also the problem that many of these children had no food at home. We brought in a cook to feed all the children who came and went, from 8am to 4pm. They were given food, treatment, and education.
SR: Now that the center is called CRISMA and it has been absorbed into Marta Sahagun’s foundation Vamos México, what is your involvement?
LM: Well, there came a time when we could not continue with the expenses of the Center, and then we began to dispense with some teachers and certain services. We sought a partnership with which we could work, and we contacted Vamos Mexico, as they have several rehabilitation centers. Marta is a very active person and her husband, Vicente Fox, also has many contacts. The Center continues with the same philosophy of caring for disabled people, especially children. We no longer have school or food, but attention to babies is important and they are taken care of very well. I do not go as often as before, but I still go and I realize they are doing an amazing job. We also have a physiotherapy department with well-trained therapists. I know them and know how they work.
SR: What did the Center give to you?
LM: I could see people I helped move on. Francisco is now a radio announcer. He came to the Center for Growth, crawling and tiny, and I asked him what he would like to be. He told me “a speaker.” I said, but you have language problems. He received language rehabilitation, and now Pancho is the radio announcer at 3pm. This gives me great pride.
SR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
LM: I think that associations, and there are several here in San Miguel, need a lot of social support from people, as these associations have the goal of helping those most in need, both here and in rural communities. And it’s important that people understand that disabled people, not only little ones and adults, but also the family members, have a great need for help from society.