By Richard Nelson
Editor’s Note: Send-off party — McDonald’s at Crown Colony is hosting a send-off party for Brice and Nadia at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 23.
Just like most siblings, Brice and Nadia Munoz fight with each other. Well, maybe not “just like” most.
“We can’t wait for one another to get better so that we can start arguing and fighting like normal brothers and sisters do,” 8-year-old Nadia said.
She and her brother, Brice, 12, were born with the same genetic condition, Glycogen Storage Disease-Type 4. As a result, both are liver-transplant recipients and have to endure ongoing care.
Their constant trips to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston for that care gave the families, volunteers and staff at Ronald McDonald House the opportunity to watch them grow from toddler boy and newborn girl into strong, active loving siblings.
“Over the years, we’ve all watched Nadia and Brice care for one another, not only as brother and sister but as two children who truly understand the struggles of one another’s diagnosis and the unique experience of receiving organ transplants and growing up in a home away from home,” said Kimberlyn Clarkson director of Volunteer Services at Ronald McDonald House in Houston. “The friendship and love between this duo offers healing and support not only for each other but also for their family.”
The impression the duo made on the RMH people helped make their decision to send the entire family to the Olympics next month in Brazil an easy one.
They are one of five “friendship duos” that McDonald’s USA has selected to participate in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. The ceremony will be seen by 80,000 spectators in Rio’s famed Maracana Stadium and by billions of television viewers worldwide.
“When (RMH) told us (about the trip) it was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” Brice and Nadia’s mother, Nora Munoz. said. “We couldn’t take this opportunity away from them … at a time when they’re the healthiest they’ve ever been and we’re grateful for that.”
The trip is an opportunity for some much-needed family time the kids’ father, Gabriel Munoz, said.
“I’m mostly away from them. I’m more absent from their lives since I’m the so-called breadwinner,” said Gabriel Munoz. “I’m not around them as much as their mom is. Hopefully I get to make more memories on this trip. Most of the time we stick around here because we think something will happen and we’ll have to go back to Houston to get it resolved. Now we know they’re more healed so we don’t have to stick around.”
Nora Munoz said she and the kids are together “24-7,” so it’s going to be difficult for her to let them be away from her when they practice and participate in Opening Ceremonies.
“It’s going to be hard … we’re going to be away from them when they go out on the field,” Nora Munoz said. “But, I know I have to let them grow up and be on their own every once in a while.”
She’s done that just a little bit with Brice, letting him play baseball for the first time this past season.
“My mom is more than a tad bit overprotective and I hate that about her, but I know that she is that way because she loves me and cares about me and my well-being,” Brice said. “I think I did OK in baseball; this was my first year and my first time playing,” Bride said. “I would like to keep playing as long as I’m healthy and able to. I like basketball and hope to play some day.”
And that’s how the Munoz family has lived – always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
It has been 10 years since Brice had his liver transplant, and less than a year since brain surgery to alleviate seizures.
“I do get upset at times, especially when I have to go to the hospital and get IVs and when I’m not able to do some of the things that kids my age can do. That’s a little upsetting,” Brice admitted. “I’m doing better. I’m thankful I’m healthy enough to go to Brazil,” he said, adding that he’s also thankful to McDonald’s and Ronald McDonald House.
Brice said that while he is thrilled to be going, all the hoopla surrounding the announcement isn’t his favorite thing.
“I don’t like the attention that I’m getting, but at least it’s good attention,” he said. “The only attention I am used to getting is the one from doctors, my parents and grandparents always asking me if I’m OK.”
Mom understands that.
“Each and every time I had to take them to Houston I was praying that we would have a great visit. The days were always long days. We would arrive between 6:30 and 7 a.m. and would not leave till 6 p.m. — on a good day,” Nora Munoz said. “It was stressful. And all Brice and Nadia wanted was to be home and be “normal” is what Brice would say. I would say, ‘What is normal?’ He’d reply, ‘Not to have to go to so many doctors appointments.’
“We has some good days and some not so good days,” she continued. “I always catch myself self wondering what is next. But I know that God is in Control and with out Him I would have a head full of grey hairs. I know God has brought them this far and has never failed us and he will continue to watch over them like he has.”
Nadia is young, but knows what is normal for her and Brice is not normal for others. The two share s special bond that was recognized by the RMH people.
“The crazy thing is that we fight about who takes the most medication. My mother says that’s not normal,” Nadia said.
“We do take care of each other, especially when we are sick,” Nadia said. “We talk about things with each other. Brice is always willing to help me with everything, especially when we go to the hospital and I have to get labs or IVs. He always holds my hand and tells me that everything’s gonna be OK or asks me if I’m OK. It makes me mad at times, but I know he’s helping me.
“I don’t like that he goes through some medical things first, but I like the fact that he can tell me when I’m going through them and if it’s going to be OK or if it will hurt or how I’m going to feel.”
Brice admitted he gets down sometimes.
“Sometimes the only thing that cheers me up is listening to Christian music. My favorite song is ‘Greater,’ by MercyMe,” Brice said. “If you have never listened to this you need to. My favorite part is when they sing bring me your tired, shame guilt, pain.
“I like to sing, but I’m kinda shy. I was able to sing the song at church with Miss Lacey (Chandler at First Baptist Church-Diboll). It was one of the greatest things that I’ve done.” Brice said.
It seems singing in church and going to the Olympics are on the same level for Brice.
He did say he is looking forward to seeing the track events, and he joins his parents in wanting to see the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. And, the 12-year-old in him came out as he admitted that part of the attraction was seeing it in the fifth installment of the “Fast & Furious” film series.
Nadia wants to see the gymnastics. And, as she explains, mom’s overprotective nature comes out again.
“My favorite part of the gymnastics is how they can jump from pole to pole and balance on the beam,” she said. “I wish I could do that. My mom won’t even let me jump from couch to couch. She says I will get. I tell her all I’m trying to do is be like everybody else. But she still won’t let me.”
The family leaves on Tuesday, Aug. 2, and returns Sunday, Aug. 7.
“I ask that you keep us in your prayers for a safe trip and for good health,” Nora Munoz said.
In Rio, the friendship pairs will be led by some of the world’s all-time greatest Olympians and their children including, U.S. Olympic gymnasts Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci and their 9-year old son, U.S. Olympic swimmer Dara Torres and her 9-year old daughter, and U.S. Olympic soccer player Julie Foudy and her 9-year old daughter and 8-year old son. Also, Olympians and their children from Australia, Brazil and Japan will participate in the program.
McDonald’s at Crown Colony is hosting a send-off party for Brice and Nadia at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 23.
“I am elated to host this event for Brice and Nadia at McDonald’s. I am overjoyed when I see the community joining together for such a great cause. On behalf of McDonald’s we would like to wish Brice, Nadia and their family a safe and enjoyable experience at the 2016 Olympics in Rio,” said Troy Schuster, owner/operator of the Lufkin restaurant.