After Challenge And Recovery, Ramirez More Determined Than Ever To Maintain Her Political Career

There has been some limited reference to a health challenge being the reason why Victorville Councilwoman Rita Ramirez has been physically absent from council meetings much of this year, and speculation about that topic has intensified as she has participated in those forums remotely over the last several months. The Sentinel learned only recently how serious of a medical crisis the mayor pro tem had.
Earlier this year, Dr. Ramirez underwent three stages of surgical amputations. Her left foot and lower portion of her leg are now gone.
Dr. Ramirez said, “In December, as I was walking to my car, I fell. I didn’t see a bruise. It was not bleeding. Sometime after the first of January, it was obvious I needed medical care. The bruising was internal. By the Thursday of the next week, the middle toe on my left foot was gangrenous. I was admitted to the hospital. First, I lost the middle toe, then my foot and then the lower leg. I was in the hospital from January until April.”
The onset of Dr. Ramirez’s ordeal came just as the 2020 Primary election season was warming up. She had entered into the race for First District supervisor, a position from which the incumbent, Robert Lovingood, had announced his intention to retire. “I had filed to run and then I fell in December,” she said. Vying with Ramirez to replace Lovingood was Paul Cook, who is currently the incumbent 8th California Congressional District congressman; Adelanto Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans; and Marcelino Garza. “I didn’t want to make use of what had happened to me when I was running for supervisor,” she said. Without raising money or campaigning, she was yet able to finish second in a field of four.
While the election was pending, things were touch and go for Dr. Ramirez. “I didn’t want my leg amputated,” she said. “They wanted to cut my leg. I said, ‘You are not going to touch my leg.’ The doctors conferred with me, and I said I will make the final decision. The mayor [Gloria Garcia] told me I was gutsy.”
Ultimately, Dr. Ramirez said, “It was a choice of life vs death. I took life. I have been blessed because I am alive. I was very resistant to the idea. I had three operations, first the toe, then my foot and now the lower leg. I had six blood transfusions. Six different times they took fluid out of my lungs.”
She was laudatory of the care provided to her by Kaiser Permanente.
“I’m just very blessed,” she said. “Kaiser helped me immensely. It has been remarkable in that I never had any fever or pain in my foot. I have been pinched, prodded and punctured constantly everywhere else. I feel like a pincushion. I’m fine, except I have lost my foot. Thank God, I live in America! I had a wonderful core of medical professionals at Kaiser. The only difficulty I had with them was when some of them referred to my leg as a stump. I had to tell them to quit referring to a part of my body like I was a tree. I am grateful to my friends and family members. I did not want to lose my leg. I did not want it cut off, but I had to be reasonable.”
“The trauma, or major trauma,” Ramirez said, “is over. I came through the surgeries. I did lose 20 pounds. I’ve lost much of my appetite. I’m getting it back but I still want to eat only certain foods. It has to do with the medication. I’m feeling well, in spite of everything. I lost my leg but I am still a whole person. I am still a human being, and that is how I will remain, no matter what part of my body is lost. Now I can see how veterans feel when people do not want to understand them as human beings. All of this makes you no less human than before.”
Dr. Ramirez said, “I was able to finally come home in April. I did go to rehabilitation in order to be able to walk. I had to learn to walk. I was under care at a small hospital in Reche Canyon. Fifteen people there tested positive for coronavirus, and then one of them died. My son heard about it and he called and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to get you out of there.’ He brought me to our family home in 29 Palms where I have been recovering ever since. I have told very few people about this.”
A degree of normalcy is returning to her existence, and she recognizes she has a way to go.
“I will be returning to Victorville as soon as I can, which means as soon as the wound is healed,” she said. “I need to learn to walk on one foot. The wound is still open and bleeding. I still cannot go outside beyond the sidewalk because it is not good for me to get sand in the wound. I hope to be able to stand on two legs. I understand I will be living a part of my life in a wheelchair and will need some form of help for the rest of my life. I can accept that.”
Dr. Ramirez said, “At our family home, I am able to find my way from room to room, from my bedroom to the living room to the kitchen. There are some hurdles. At doorways, someone has to pick up the wheelchair to get over the partition. I still can’t get out into the garage. When I go outside, I have to stay on the cement, the sidewalk, to avoid hurting myself. It is a learning experience. It is a different life, but it is still a life.”
While she was yet dealing with the gangrene issue, she had to dodge the same health threat everyone else was up against, she said. “I was in a very vulnerable state,” she stated. “I have been tested for COVID-19 three times. I have been negative. I am still quarantined pretty much. I have contact with my sons and family. That’s about it. I have to have people cook for me. It is hard on me because I am so independent.”
“No one is an island,” Dr. Ramirez said. “It makes a difference when you have support. I am very grateful to [Mayor] Gloria [Garcia] and the city manager [Keith Metzler], [Councilwoman] Blanca [Gomez] and Mr. [Councilman James] Cox, and [Councilwoman] Debra [Jones] for caring about me and providing support, so I can continue to participate as a member of the council. I am committed to remaining in office for as long as the voters will have me.”
Ramirez said, “I was asked if I was going to quit. I said, ‘Heck, no!’ Number one, I have two years left still in my term, so I’m hoping my health will continue to get stronger and better. As far as I’m concerned, Victorville’s voters and residents are living a life with a bright future in the High Desert,” she said, but she believes their lives can be better and she wants to bring attention to the diverse interests they have and make sure that their needs are met. “They need certain things, and I will always be their advocate for a better life,” she said.
Ramirez said, “I want to be every bit as energetic and even more so in my second two years on the Victorville City Council and potentially beyond as I was in my first two years. People look at me like I’m crazy, but I consider it to be my serious mission to bring businesses to the High Desert. To do that, we need education. I want to bring a new state university. To attract businesses, we need to have more professional people. I believe the Southern California Logistics Airport should become an international passenger airport. We have two runways that can handle 747 and 757 aircraft,” she said. “In Victorville, 52 percent of our population is Latino, and they can communicate in the Spanish language. We should be bringing tourists in from Mexico and South America. We have the airport. We can provide hospitality.”
Ramirez continued, “While I’ve been on the council, there have been people who have complained about off-road vehicles and motorcyclists driving behind their houses and yards. I think we need to create places where people can enjoy themselves without bothering others. Victorville is a desert area and people should be able to go to a park where they can barbecue and ride their bikes. We need to provide safe places for that. I believe in enhancing the quality of life. I think we should make the golf course greener, with landscaping and gardens. Those are the things that make life rich and worth living. Plus, I want to make sure that Victorville gets a boys and girls club. Leadership skills can be learned.”
Ramirez carried on. “We need to rejuvenate downtown,” she said. “What is happening there is resulting in the loss of economic opportunity and income, both to the residents and the city. I am all for celebrating our downtown. In other communities in the county – Yucaipa, Glen Helen, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Chino – there are places where people can go and play soccer and baseball, volleyball, tennis, football, places where there are artists and music, and playgrounds for children, places where a family can go out and walk. We have older parts of the city that could be renovated into a large scale park. We should make it so it’s easy for our residents to enjoy life. As mayor pro tem, I want to lead an effort to bring that to Victorville.”
Where there is a will, there exists means, said Dr. Ramirez. “There is no reason why these things can’t be, unless you accept that it can’t be done,” she said. “God put me on this earth to help people. That is what I want to do as part of the city council, to the best of my ability.”
This latest challenge is a physical one, she said, which is probably far less restrictive than the boundaries which she and others placed on herself years ago. When she was young, she had accepted the limitations put on her, Dr. Ramirez said. “I told my high school counselor I wanted to be a civil engineer,” Ramirez said. “She told me that wasn’t going to happen. She said I could be secretary, a nurse or a teacher.” This was daunting, Ramirez said. “I was 17 years old and I hated kids, and I fainted at the sight of blood.” She set aside the dream of becoming an engineer, and she ended up teaching junior high. Eventually she moved on to being a college professor.
Her horizon has widened, and now she is a retired college professor of 38 years involved in politics, she pointed out. She missed out on getting elected First District supervisor on March 3, perhaps because, she said, her medical condition prevented her from getting out and campaigning. “I know I was a far better candidate and more suited for the job than Paul Cook,” she said of the victor in that race. “I was going to start my campaign in January, but I ended up in the hospital.”
The primary path to enrichment and self actuation, Dr. Ramirez said, is “scholarship. Young people and all of us have the right to be educated. If you don’t have education, it is hard to find your proper and best place in the workforce, and people control you. If you don’t have a trained mind, that is the same thing as being a slave. I will fight for everyone to be able to go to school for as long as they are interested in learning. That is a basic right.”
When it was remarked that losing her foot and lower leg was a tough break, Dr. Ramirez said, “No, I have been lucky. I could have died. Sometimes your fate is destiny. I will do my best with what I have. I am very satisfied with what I have. You can’t win them all. Whatever I do, I do it to the best of my ability. I will be returning to Victorville and will be working with Mayor Garcia and the rest of the council in doing the job, not focusing on my personal needs. That should have nothing to do with your role as a public official. If someone feels otherwise, then that is a politician who puts himself before what he is responsible for and that is when you get into trouble. As a politician, you are a public servant. That is, you have been elected to serve the people, not yourself. Thank you to everyone who prayed for my recovery, and thank you to those who voted for me. God bless you all.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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