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Home Health Aide Becomes a Guardian and, He Hopes, a Father - New York Times

As Marco Muñoz speaks, recalling the past few years of his life, Jose Hernandez slips one of his shoes onto Mr. Muñoz’s hand. It is an odd yet effective gesture that signals to Mr. Muñoz that Jose wants to go for a walk.

Jose, 17, was born with severe autism and developmental disabilities. He is nonverbal and unable to feed, clothe or bathe himself. Yet Mr. Muñoz, 66, said that their bond transcended words.

The two entered each other’s lives six years ago, when Mr. Muñoz began working as Jose’s home health aide. Mr. Muñoz came to New York 25 years ago from Colombia. He decided to become a home health aide on somewhat of a whim, having previously spent a decade working as an elevator operator in a factory until it closed.

“Somebody told me: ‘Why don’t you try doing some home attendant work?’” he said through a Spanish interpreter. “I didn’t have a job, so I tried something new.”

Mr. Muñoz worked first with older adults, feeling an immediate sense of worth by caring for them and keeping them company. His calling became clearer when he started working with children.

“I felt the love and the tenderness,” Mr. Muñoz said. “I felt very moved by them. I wanted to do something for them.”

For months, Mr. Muñoz cared for Jose. In that time, he said he witnessed a number of things that disconcerted him. Jose was often malnourished and dressed in soiled clothing, and was frequently left alone in windowless rooms for hours. Mr. Muñoz said that he contacted social workers but Jose was not removed from the home, nor did his circumstances improve.

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