- Associated Press - Saturday, January 25, 2014

MURRIETA, Calif. (AP) - Paul Cortez can remember the night 31 years ago as clearly as if it was last week. He had walked into the pediatric intensive care unit of Riverside County Regional Medical Center to find his 7-year-old son, Mikey, barely clinging to life.

Bandages were covering his little body, seemingly from head to toe. Wires and tubes attached to machines were keeping him alive.

Doctors told Cortez that Mikey might not make it. A drunken driver had smashed into the car carrying the boy and relatives, sending four of them, including his mother, brother and sister, to other hospitals. Four other relatives, including Mikey’s oldest brother, were dead.

Not knowing what to do, Paul Cortez got down on his knees and, with Mikey’s hand in his, made a promise to God: If his son somehow survived, whatever the condition, he and his family would always be there for him.


It felt strange at first because, although he is a deeply religious man, Cortez had never before asked for any favors from heaven.

“But he was our son,” he recalled.

Mikey would never walk or talk again, but that didn’t matter to his family. For the next 31 years, they would raise him at home, including him in every activity they could. From holidays to family vacations to high school football games, they were by his side until his death last month.

“I prayed to God to walk our families through this,” Cortez said, his voice thick with emotion. “To help us. And he did.”

The youngest of Paul and Roonie Cortez’s four children, Austin Miguel Cortez - “but Mikey just stuck,” his mother says - had always been the most gregarious and mischievous member of the family. He was a veritable whirlwind of energy and practical jokes.

“If you look at the pictures, they pretty much tell you the story of Mikey, because in every one he’s goofing off,” Cortez said.

In one, he’s striking some sort of warrior-cowboy pose.

In another, he’s mugging for the camera.

In a group shot, he’s making a face.

And in practically every one he’s sporting a big grin.

The family lived in Temecula, midway between San Diego and Los Angeles. In March 1982, it was little more than a picturesque backwater of rolling hills and vineyards. The beauty of the place was why Cortez had moved his family there three years earlier.

Story Continues →