Mariluz Paulino was a toddler taking her first steps when polio left her unable to walk. Her family was too poor to afford a wheelchair, so she used her arms to drag herself along the floor of her home in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, her daughter said.
But her disability didn’t stop her from getting an education. More than five decades ago, “her brother would carry her piggyback to school,” said her 26-year-old daughter, Perla Guzman.
Paulino learned to walk with leg braces and crutches, became her college’s valedictorian with a degree in computer engineering, got married, had three children, immigrated to the United States and eventually found herself unable to walk again after she fell on the ice outside her Paterson home, breaking her knee and her femur.
Now Paulino needs a wheelchair to get around, but performs manicures and pedicures in one of the bedrooms of the 4th Ward apartment she shares with Guzman, her oldest daughter. Paulino said she sees about 20 clients a week and has been setting aside some of the money she makes to buy new leg braces and boots and to pay for the treatment she needs to walk again.
Paulino said her orthopedist told her it would cost about $20,000 to get everything she needs to resume walking. She doesn’t have health insurance and received treatment through charity care when she fell in 2009.
“My goal is to save money for my braces,” she said. “I want walk. I need to lose pounds. I need exercise. I need to feel better. Walking, is better for me.”
In the Dominican Republic, Paulino started giving friends manicures and pedicures as a hobby, she said. The skills came in handy when she went to college.
Paulino was working two jobs in information technology in the Dominican Republic when her husband decided the family would come to the United States in 2003. But her visa status would not allow her to work in computer technology, her daughter said, and her husband was sent back to the Dominican Republic in 2011. The couple eventually divorced as Paulino struggled to get by with three children.
But Paulino made sure her children stayed focused on their educations. In the apartment room where she now does people’s nails sits a framed certificate identifying Paulino as Eastside High School’s Parent Of The Year for 2012-13. Guzman now works as a laboratory assistant at a hospital in Morris County, earning enough money to cover the bills for the home she shares with her mother.
Mariluz Paulino and her daughter have set up a GoFundMe page.