Helotes’ mother pays tribute to her late son who had spina bifida with a 5km walk, run and roll



For many years, Helotes first responders were at the fingertips of Jay Angel Perez. Perez, born with spina bifida and paralyzed from the waist down, had an undying respect for firefighters and police.

The relationship developed as they responded to calls from his mother, Tammy Nettles, to help lift him off the floor if he felt it was wrong to move to his bed or wheelchair. They always arrived promptly to help her broad-shouldered son, a devout Catholic who loved the Dallas Cowboys and Spurs.

“He had this ability and this relationship where he could pick up the phone and have a conversation with them,” Nettles said. “It brought tears to my eyes.”

The men and women who enforced the law and fought the fires played a central role in the last 12 years of Perez’s life.

On January 3, 2021, Nettles’ son, whom she called a blessing, died. He was 37 years old. Five days later, family, friends and first responders gathered for his final farewell. They attended Perez’s rosary at St. Mary’s Funeral Home and his funeral at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Helotes. Fire trucks and police cars lined the sidewalks of both departments.

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A 22-year Air Force veteran, Vincent T. Davis embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. By observing and listening to San Antonio, he finds intriguing stories to tell about ordinary people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood attended the rosary and Perez’s funeral. Hood shared with mourners that he had a photo of Perez on the wall in his office. He remembers how Perez phoned him on Christmas Eve and they talked for over an hour. Perez, he said, was “a shining light to all who knew him”.

“Every day things get tough for you, you think about Jay,” Hood said. “Jay is a precious gift. I will remember him forever.

Police and firefighters who knew Perez served as pallbearers, lifting him one last time. Before the funeral was over, Nettles slipped off her black heeled shoes and put them aside, as in the Bible, as a sign of humility. She knelt before her son’s coffin and prayed. It was a mother’s last act of service to her child whom she had cared for from birth to death.

“I believe we all have a moment to leave,” Nettles said. “God let me borrow it for almost 38 years. Then I had to give it back to him.

On Saturday, Nettles and Spina Bifida Texas will sponsor the first Jay’s 5K Run-Walk & Roll at the Texas Ski Ranch, 6700 Interstate 35, New Braunfels.

Nettles, a registered nurse, said the purpose of the event was to spread the word and raise money for San Antonio children born with spina bifida. She wants others to know that many families cannot afford ramps, need adaptive equipment, and need transportation for their sons and daughters to doctor’s appointments.

Nettles said the product will help families with high costs for hospitalization, medications, medical supplies and home modifications.

“When you have a child with a disability, it’s your world,” she said. “His legacy will continue to help others. We who have been called to give back.

The Alamo Heights Optimist Club donated $5,000 to the event. Texas Ski Ranch, where Perez swam, donated the use of its facilities. Nettles said this was their first 5k run/run event for San Antonio.

Rosanne Gonzales, executive director of Spina Bifida Texas, said the nonprofit serves South and Central Texas with the Lending Closet, which has donated resources, medical supplies and family-friendly equipment. in need.

“For the past two years, we’ve been trapped inside,” Gonzales said. “It’s a great way to get families out and get people active again. I’m so excited that we can raise awareness for people with disabilities.

Nettles’ son had myelomeningocele, the most severe form of spina bifida, where the spinal cord and meninges protrude from a vertebral opening. Perez was born in Blytheville, Ark., on April 23, 1983. He underwent three major life-and-death surgeries within the first seven hours after birth. And he underwent more than 75 surgeries in his lifetime.

Perez’s family helped him live life to the fullest. Nettles taught him how to swim when he was a toddler, and staff at the Texas Ski Ranch taught him how to water ski with proper gear. They took him to the National Junior Wheelchair Championships, where he was able to compete. He played sports from kindergarten through the first two years of college, placing first and second in competitions such as combined weightlifting, shot put, and javelin.

His passion for the sport was matched only by his dedication to his favorite professional and college teams. Perez’s bedroom was a sports fan’s nirvana, filled with memorabilia from the Spurs, Cowboys, Houston Astros and Arkansas Razorbacks. Baseball caps lined three closet shelves. Images of Spurs players made up a hand-sewn quilt. Trophies and plaques have been engraved in his name.

While scrolling through memories recently, Nettles said that when someone asked how Perez was doing, he replied, “I just keep pushing.” She said that even after 40 brain surgeries, her son could still speak English and Spanish. He was proud of the Puerto Rican heritage he shared with his father.

Perez attended San Antonio College, where he earned a teaching assistant degree. He worked for the Northside Independent School District at Carnahan Elementary School with Learning Tree for 12 years. A tree is planted at the school in his honor.

Nettles said Helotes first responders, many of whom knew her son by first name, had an impact on his life. Helotes Fire and EMS Chief Scott Moreland said that because the community is small, they often go to the same houses and get used to more people.

“It’s good to know we’re meeting the audience and their needs,” Moreland said. “I’m proud of our staff for being as professional as they are for more routine calls like this.”

Helotes Police Chief Rob Hunley said officers who care about their community are part of their job.

“Helping Jay is what you’re supposed to do,” Hunley said. “It’s the philosophy. In this case, they did what they are supposed to do. That’s what these guys are. Their compassion showed that they really cared.

The 5K run-roll starts at 8 a.m. Registration is $30. Participants can register at runsignup.com/Race/TX/NewBraunfels/5KRunWalkRoll.

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