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The unsung hero who helped a mom understand her son

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. These are stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on others. Today's story comes from Barbara Romero. When Barbara's son Daniel was around 12, his behavior became erratic. Sometimes he'd stay up all night talking to himself. Eventually, Daniel was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but before the diagnosis, he was constantly getting in trouble at school. Eventually, he ended up in a youth detention center near his family's home. Not long after he arrived there, Romero called to talk to a social worker.

BARBARA ROMERO: So I called them, and the woman that answered the phone was just trying to do her job. And when I asked for him, she said, we can't give you any information on the inmates here. And I said, but I know he's there. They just told us that they brought him there. And she, again, just trying to do her job, maintained her situation. So I said to her, look. You don't have to give me any information on who is there. I just want you to patch me through to a nurse or a social worker. So in a little while, a woman came on the line. And I said, I just believe that our son is there, and I just want to give you information. And when I told her his name, she just sighed, like, this huge sigh. And she said (crying), Mrs. Romero, I am so glad you called. You have a very sick boy on your hands.

And it was like right then, somebody just put a blanket over my shaking shoulders because for the first time, somebody said that our son was not a bad kid. He was an ill kid. And she was the first person that articulated clearly and concisely, you can stop trying to do all those things because the only thing that's going to make them better, frankly - and this is what we found out - is medication. But I've always kept that in my heart because from that point forward, when I would want to think, oh, I should have done this, and, oh, I - maybe I'm the cause of this, I remembered, no, he's sick. No, he's sick. And so I looked at it as an illness as opposed to something that he could change. You know, one sentence changed our lives - not that it was easy afterwards, but I keep that in my heart what she said.

SHAPIRO: Barbara Romero of Tucson, Ariz. Today, Daniel is 34 and living independently in a group home. You can find more stories like this on the My Unsung Hero podcast, and to share the story of your unsung hero, visit myunsunghero.org for instructions on how to send a voice memo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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