Luck wasn’t riding with Jose Santamaria the night he was left for dead.
He’s the beloved chef I told you about two weeks ago who was struck by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bicycle home from another long shift at downtown’s Mayahuel restaurant. Most nights, Santamaria’s son drove him home. But on May 17, “a beautiful night,” Santamaria decided to ride. He was struck near Sacramento City College around 1:30 in the morning.
They weren’t sure Santamaria, 51, was going to make it. He suffered broken ribs, cracked vertebrae and internal bleeding. Doctors at UC Davis Medical Center operated on him for 11 hours and for a bit, it didn’t look like Santamaria would walk again.
But there he was Thursday, sitting in a recliner in his home off Fruitridge Road, smiling and crying and full of gratitude for a community that has done an amazing thing. As of that morning, 140 people had combined to donate nearly $11,000 to Santamaria and his family to pay for his hefty medical costs. Santamaria has never met most of the donors; many of these generous people made anonymous gifts to an online account at www.gofundme.com/SantamariaFund.
“I knew I had a lot of friends,” he said. “I didn’t expect this. It makes me so happy. It gives me power to keep going.”
Santamaria is walking again, albeit in short bursts and with a walker. He’s in a lot of pain. “I have a hole here,” he said, pointing to the left side of his chest. “And I have a hole here,” pointing to the right side.
Friends have been leaving food on the front porch almost every day. Santamaria’s wife and two children are meeting new people all the time – people who love this strong and gentle man in their life.
They’re Santamaria’s friends from the Torch Club who organized the fundraising effort. They’re old customers at Café Soleil, the now-closed restaurant in Cesar Chavez Plaza where Santamaria cooked for years. And they’re the workers at Mayahuel, who have been collecting their tips – money they normally rely upon to feed their own families – to give to Santamaria’s family.
On Sunday, the Torch Club is holding a benefit concert to raise money for Santamaria’s medical costs. Six bands are signed up to play, and the gig starts at 3 p.m.
“We’re so blessed,” said Santamaria’s son, Darwin.
More than anyone, it’s Santamaria’s wife and children who are giving him strength. His reclining chair faces a wall covered in framed photographs of them. “I’m home, I’m happy,” Santamaria said. “I work hard every day because I have my beautiful family.”
Genny, his wife, never left his side during Santamaria’s one-week stay in the ICU. She was there Thursday, holding his hand, smiling and dabbing away tears. Darwin and Santamaria’s daughter, also named Genny, looked on – they adore their father. In his toughest hour, Santamaria is surrounded by love.
And we should all be that lucky.