Magazine article Working Mother

This Is How She Does It

Magazine article Working Mother

This Is How She Does It

Article excerpt


32, executive assistant, Vornado Realty Trust, New York City; single mom to Martin Salvador Ortega, 10

When doctors told Raysa Penelope Abreu that the man who was her life partner, her mentor and the father of her son had something more serious than shortness of breath - it was cancer, and he had less than three months to live - she didn't cry or despair. She rose to her feet, picked up her handbag and had one thought: "I knew I needed to get him out of that hospital to a place where he'd survive."

So began a three-year journey to cure Salvador Ortega of non-small-cell lung cancer. It would include radiation and chemotherapy, as well as experimental approaches like a trip to Puebla, Mexico, for curative ant eggs. Raysa's determination and hope were unswerving. "We wanted to have him as long as possible," she says. "We researched every option. We tried everything."

Raysa's single-minded, passionate efforts to prolong Salvador's life didn't surprise anyone who knows her. Loyal, enthusiastic and bullheaded are the adjectives her friends and family readily supply, adding that she always looks at the bright side of life. "Raysa is a Taurus, and she's a bull in the best sense of the word," says her best friend, Janine D, a singer and actor who currently lives in the Middle East. "She can make what looks impossible seem possible. She's a fighter and a survivor."

An executive assistant at Vornado Realty Trust, a large commercial real estate company in Manhattan, Raysa worked full-time as she labored to find a cure for Salvador and took care of their son, Martin. Her boss, Wendy Silverstein, executive VP of capital markets, was very supportive. "Wend/s own husband had died of cancer when her kids were young," Raysa says. "She understood everything I was going through. She had already lived it."


The instinct to battle back was part of Raysa's personality as a child growing up in the Dominican Republic, where she would stand up not only for herself but also for her younger brother, Pedro. "Raysa always helped me get what I wanted, whether it was a toy or getting into college," Pedro says. "No matter what my goal was, she would encourage me. She also protected me, even if it meant getting into a fight for me or just taking the blame." Born just 14 months apart, Raysa and Pedro were best friends throughout childhood, and they were also there for each other when their parents divorced.

"We'd ride dirt bikes or watch old films," she says. Pedro remembers his sister's loyalty. "Raysa was always making friends everywhere we went. It was hard for me to meet new people, so I would just tag along with her and hang out with her and her friends," he recalls. "She always accepted me tagging along, and she always invited me no matter where she was going. I can't remember one time when she tried to get rid of me." Pedro's wife, Veronica, adds that as a tribute to their love for Raysa, they named their second daughter after her. "Unlike many siblings, Raysa and Pedro didn't argue. They were just always there for one another," says Veronica.

What Raysa remembers most about growing up in the Dominican Republic is her bare feet touching smooth marble floors, the smell of grass after a tropical rainstorm, the endless white beaches. No surprise that moving from this paradise to an apartment in Queens, NY, with her mother and brother when she was 6 years old was an adjustment. They relocated in search of a better life, and Raysa's mother, Maribel Burgos, went to college so she could become a teacher. "My mom worked hard," Raysa says. "She came here as an immigrant, working and going to school, yet she was tireless." A year after they moved to New York, her mother met Raysa's future stepfather. A sister was born soon after, giving Raysa, as the oldest, more responsibility. Her mother kept life interesting, taking them on trips to Coney Island and bicycle rides through Central Park. …

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