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How a Catholic parish’s clever housing initiative saved a little boy’s life

Alex, Yenny and Gabriel Malaver

Blessed family: Colombian parents Yenny and Alex Malaver with their son Gabriel. Photo: Emilie Ng

COLOMBIAN migrants Alex and Yenny Malaver might be the only parents in Australia who say renting a house saved their son’s life.

The young parents, who are originally from Colombia but met in Brisbane through the Catholic Latin American community, are the first migrants to benefit from the Jubilee parish’s Head Start Program, which turns weekly rental payments into a deposit on a house.

They believe the program helped their son, Gabriel, to defy doctors’ expectations and see out his fourth birthday.

Born in 2012, Gabriel has progeria, a rare condition that causes children to age significantly faster than their peers.

Due to his condition, Gabriel has no teeth, his hearing is in decline to the point where he has to use hearing aids, he has already lost one of his testicles, and his speech is delayed.

As well as progeria, Gabriel is connected to a feeding tube because he cannot swallow solid food.

An estimated one in 20 million people are born with progeria, and most will not live past 14 years of age.

Alex and Yenny believe Gabriel is only one of five people in the world with his same condition, and even found his “twin”, another child who looks exactly like him.

Unbelievably, Gabriel’s “twin” is named Gabriella.

Before the Malavers received accommodation through the Jubilee parish’s Head Start Program, doctors told them Gabriel’s life was on the line.

“Two years ago the doctors didn’t expect him to live more than a year,” Yenny said.

“Three years ago it was just so difficult, a more terrible time (where) we just expected negative things, but we never thought about positive things.”

Although they are committed parishioners at St Ambrose’s Church in Newmarket, which is part of the Jubilee parish and where they married, Alex and Yenny said they never knew about the Head Start Program until a fellow parishioner encouraged them to apply.

Their application was successful.

“We got the house in the moment that we were most needing it because of Gabriel,” Yenny said.

“Of course it was a real good boost for our savings, but it was more the help, that we didn’t have to rush to pay rent, or bills.

“We had time to look after our son.”

The Malaver family

Happy family: Thanks to a parish initiative, the Malavers are now homeowners and looking forward to a future with their son with Progeria. Photo: Emilie Ng

Over time Gabriel’s condition has started to improve – there is fat under his skin, his hair is growing and he is even starting to swallow small items.

“We thought that just he was going to be with us two or three years, but he’s still here,” Yenny said

“Now he’s looking like me, he’s a mini me,” Alex added.

Yenny said the Quinn House helped her family to grow in faith and live “day by day” with Gabriel.

“I cannot express my gratitude to what happened with us,” Yenny said.

The support from the parish has also been overwhelming.

“Not just to have economical support, but that people are praying for us,” Yenny said.

“Everywhere we are, people know Gabriel; people don’t know Yenny and Alex, they know Gabriel.”

And, as per the Head Start Program’s aim, the Malavers were able to buy their first home, a three-bedroom unit in Herston that’s close to Lady Cilento Hospital for Gabriel’s treatments.

Around the same time they received another miracle, finding out they were expecting a second child this year.

“We didn’t expect to have that because after Gabriel, I was pregnant again but I had a miscarriage,” Yenny said.

“The doctors at the hospital said that we wouldn’t be able to have more babies because I have just 2 per cent of the normal eggs that every woman has.

“And now I am pregnant.”

The Malavers are planning to give back to the community by opening their home to struggling families.

“In the future if I buy a bigger house we will help other people in the same way that (the Jubilee parish) helped us,” Alex said.

Yenny encouraged all parishes in the Brisbane archdiocese to adopt the Head Start Program in their own communities.

“Not just encouraging to apply but they can try to do exactly the same,” she said.

Written by: Emilie Ng

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