It is May of 2007, Lisa Guardado is taking her only daughter, Ava Guardado, to her 22-month check up with the pediatrician. Lisa knew early on that something was different about Ava.
Ava was not reaching the same milestones as her brothers, Niko and Jakob Guardado. As infants, Lisa’s boys made eye contact, but Ava did not. This behavior reminded Lisa of her friend’s baby, who was recently diagnosed with autism.
A few weeks earlier, Lisa shared her concerns with her husband, Eddie Guardado, about how Ava behaved differently from Niko and Jakob.
“She is so loving and cuddly, but there are things that just make her seem different.”
“Eddie, she didn’t start crawling until, like eleven months. She is so loving and cuddly, but there are things that just make her seem different,” Lisa said over the phone.
“She has her check up soon,” Eddie replied. “Why don’t you ask the doctor? I’m sure she’s fine.”
During the appointment, the doctor told Lisa that Ava should be at the age where she is babbling and learning to walk.
Lisa smirked then laughed. “She’s not even putting one word together,” Lisa said.
The pediatrician began to ask more questions about Ava and then referred Lisa to a laundry list of doctors, including an audiologist, a speechologist and a neurologist. She calls this her “ologist moment.”
Ava had just been diagnosed with autism.
Lisa will never forget walking into the appointment on June 7, 2007. Eddie came home from work and they went to the neurologist together. After the appointment, Lisa walked out of the neurologist’s room and into the waiting area. She collapsed on a chair and broke down. Ava had just been diagnosed with autism.
Lisa never imagined something like this would happen to her. She looked back at her life with Eddie and started reminiscing how their precious family began .
It was 1992, Lisa’s best friend Kim asked her to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. Kim’s fiancé, Danny, had a younger brother named Eddie, who was also in the bridal party.
“I’m only going to be in the wedding if Lisa’s my partner walking down the aisle,” Eddie said.
“Why would I mind? He’s five years younger than me. It’s just an old crush and if my best friend says this makes her happy, I’ll go ahead and do it,” Lisa responded.
She could tell Eddie had become his family’s favorite after making it in minor league baseball. To Lisa, he was simply her friend’s little brother.
During the wedding reception, the entire bridal party performed a choreographed dance, giving Eddie the opportunity to talk to Lisa.
“We will one day be together, and have a wedding like this one” he whispered to her during the dance.
“You do realize the man sitting next to me at the table is my boyfriend right?” she responded.
A few months went by before Eddie returned home from his baseball season. During his stay, he ran into Lisa, greeting her as if they were already married. He would say, “Hey honey how’s it going?” Lisa would simply shake her head and smile at her friend’s cocky little brother. Each time Eddie returned to Stockton, he cracked the same joke until Lisa finally agreed to see a movie with him at the local theater.
By 2007, Lisa and Eddie had three children and lived in Tustin, California. During baseball season, they lived in Minnesota where Eddie was a relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins. Lisa did her best to see Eddie while he was on the road, but when she began bringing the kids along, these trips became complicated.
Lisa tried doing everything for her boys while also making sure Ava had all the resources she needed to stay healthy. Baseball games were the only opportunities they had to see their father during the season.
Throughout the years, Lisa saw the rigors of baseball tear family friends apart. She did not want her marriage to collapse, but caring for Ava forced her to work twice as hard to keep the family together.
After a long day of taking Ava to appointments, Lisa finally had a moment to relax in the tub. The uncertainty over Ava and her family’s future began to overwhelm Lisa as tears rolled down her cheeks. After a moment, she called Eddie.
“I feel selfish because there are other children suffering from cancer or being incredibly unhealthy and I have a healthy little girl. I feel, I’m mourning my child, but I shouldn’t be because she’s so healthy,” Lisa said. “You don’t get to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. All of the cute little things for my little Ava—going to prom— are now gone.”
Eddie struggled to find the right words to comfort his wife from afar. “Babe, we can get through this,” he said willing her to believe him.
All we can do is provide her with love and care.
Lisa took Ava to all of her recommended doctor appointments. She thought she needed to fix Ava, so she could have a normal childhood. After some time, however, Lisa had a revelation during another late-night phone call with Eddie.
“All we can do is provide her with love and care,” she told her husband. “I really think she [Ava] just needs to be loved like us.”
The hardships of constantly traveling, being away from his family and the knowledge that his only daughter had an incurable condition rested heavily on Eddie’s mind. “Babe I don’t know if it’s different because you are with her and seeing it everyday, but this is something that we need to do more about,” he said. “It’s kind of like cancer in the way that it doesn’t have a cure. ”
Lisa and Eddie wanted to become involved in a non-profit that supports autism, but quickly realized that none of them touched their hearts.
Even though the couple were attending several events and felt tremendous support from Eddie’s team, the results were not enough. “I want something that’s more meaningful to us,” Eddie said.
“We can always go look for an autistic foundation to be a part of,” Lisa responded excitedly. In 2008, the family launched the Eddie Guardado Foundation to raise money for other families with autistic children.
For this year’s “Stars and Strikes” event, hosted at their home in Tustin, they held a live silent auction. During the event, volunteers wrap up prizes in cellophane, while Lisa creates the event schedule. Eddie fills a table in the front with food for volunteers. Ava finds a moment when no one is looking and grabs a sandwich.
“Ava, what are you doing? You know you’re not supposed to be eating that stuff. Give that to me. It’s not gluten-free sweetheart,” Lisa said.
While Ava has different needs than other children, she is still a playful child.
“If Ava was different, I really do believe our lives would have one less big blessing,” Lisa said. “Yeah, we did lose out on having all the moments of having ‘a normal little girl,’ but we gained something even better.”
Ava’s presence has brought the family a new outlook on life, Eddie said. “She brings joy into our home, by bringing awareness and light to others with disabilities,” he said. “Heck, without her, we wouldn’t be doing any of this.”
Lisa and Eddie hope to continue spreading awareness when they are “old and gray;” even when their children are happy with their own careers and families.
“I know we will still be doing the only thing we know, traveling to see family, and traveling to see the kids with Ava,” Lisa said.
Eddie feels incredibly blessed with how much Ava has developed. She is fully potty trained and can now dress herself.
“Hey, sometimes I think maybe we won’t even have Ava with us,” he said. “God gave us what we could handle and he knew we could handle this. The future is always so unknown.”
Written by: Elaine Kong
Photos by: Austin Henry Wallace
Designed by: Nicole Bernardini