Podcast San Antonio

PODCAST: Ralph Garcia, the Polar Vortex, & San Antonio’s Disability Community

Ralph Garcia and the polar vortex in Texas
Ralph Garcia at home in San Antonio during a blackout. Image: Courtesy

“This is to CPS. This is to any energy supply company. And this message is to every mayor in the Texas region, and including the Governor, that I want to listen to this. Right now your disabled community is dying.”

With millions of people across Texas out of power and much of Texas iced over due to the Arctic’s native weather sliding dangerously across the Plains and into San Antonio, Ralph Garcia has suffered like many others. His access to power has lasted no longer than 45 minutes at a time for the last 48 hours. But the failure of state energy planners coupled with the bitter cold hitting all power sources—most conspicuously gas power plants—has placed some at greater risk than others. The climate crisis is no game. But the impact on people with disabilities has largely gone unreported.

Now 25, Ralph was born with muscular dystrophy and requires a range of treatments every day that require access to electric power, among them nebulizers, a feeding device, and suction and cough assistance machines. Without power, as hundreds of thousands of San Antonio residents remain today, Ralph and his mom have closed themselves off in his bedroom and packed the window with sheets and blankets in an attempt to try to stay warm. Because of his medical equipment and because both he and his mom are immunocompromised, moving to one of the city’s warming centers is not an option. Ralph’s mother, struggling with the impact of radiation treatments for cervical cancer, was sleeping beside him on the floor beside him during this interview. —Greg Harman

UPDATE, March 9, 2021: Read Ralph Garcia’s first-hand account of riding out the polar vortex in San Antonio at the Lone Star Sierra Club blog.

“My mom, who also has epilepsy, came into my room to talk about dinner when our power shut off. As quickly as a flick of a light switch, everything turned upside down. The lights cutting off so quickly triggered my mom into a seizure, causing her to fall to the floor. Being disabled myself, I was unable to help her get back up. Watching the person who took care of me for 25 years shake and jerk , being completely unable to help her, still brings tears to my eyes. …

“I checked our phones: 50% each. I looked at my ventilator: 6 hours on the back up battery. My power wheelchair: two bars of battery left. Great, I thought. Nebulizer machine: dead. No way to open up my airways. My cough assist machine to help get junk out of my lungs, if it develops: that’s dead, too. My oxygen concentrator is dead as well. One by one, each machine is either dead or dying. This was going to be tough”


Contribute to Ralph Garcia’s GoFundMe campaign. Follow him on him on Facebook or Instagram.

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