Written by JETCET CEO | Founder
Recently, I've had time to reflect on my life and the reason I am so passionate about travel, JETCET, giving back, and my friends and family.
I started writing about my reflections, and my whole life story came out...
37 years ago, my parents got married and started to plan a new life together. They were excited to move to a new country and start a family. My father had moved to the US before my mother, and had started his 1st job. My mother continued to work in the Philippines, waiting for the day she could come to the US, until one day she was hit by a bus in the middle of a busy street. She has told me that the bus did not slow down and probably didn’t even see her. She said she probably flew 20 feet before she landed and that many people saw the accident happen but didn’t help her because they didn’t know what to do. She had broken bones, had many many surgeries, and doctors prescribed her lots of drugs to help ease her pain. My father went back to the Philippines to be with her throughout her recovery. It took her months to recover but she did recover, thankfully, and was able to move to the US with my father.
They started their family a year later when they were both 33 and their 1st child was born. He was born 2 months premature. He came into this world a tiny baby and Down syndrome. I always questioned if my mother’s accident and all the drugs she had to take had anything to do with my brother being Down syndrome.
My parents were told that they would be in for a struggle raising a Down syndrome child and their doctor recommended if they wanted to have any other children, to try and have another child right away. So they got busy and made me and I was born 11 months after my big brother.
For the first few years of my life, I had no idea that anything was different about my brother. My parents would dress us up in similar clothing and we’d look like twins. When I started to get older, I noticed that people, children and adults, looked at my brother differently and treated him differently. It confused me and didn’t seem right. I felt like it was my job to defend him, show people that there was nothing wrong with him. I would be invited to play with other children but my brother never was, so I always chose to stay with him. We’d always play at home together and one day, I remember we were climbing things in our house and he had fallen from a few feet up and on his back. We didn’t know at the time, because he seemed fine, but that incident would take a huge toll on his health.
As I got older, the differences in our lives became clearer to me. I went to school and had friends, he stayed at home and I was his only friend. I had my 7th birthday at my house and my school friends were invited. This was the first time they met my brother and they kept asking what was wrong with him. I didn’t know how to answer. Later on, I’d ask my parents to explain to me what was wrong with him. They told me that he’s “Down syndrome”. They explained to me as much as they could but I wanted to know more. So I went to our trusty encyclopedias and looked up Down syndrome. I read that there was no cure and he would always be disabled. I read that he wouldn't exceed the mental age of a 7 year old child. But the part that struck me the most was the last sentence. It said that life expectancy was not expected to last beyond 20-25 years. That crushed me and made me question why this had to happen to him.
A few years later, my brother’s health took a turn. He started to walk with a limp. He wasn’t able to lift his left arm. His face started drooping. We would find out that he had a spinal injury from his fall a years back and needed dangerous surgery to fix it. I remember seeing the fear in my parent’s eyes when they finally took my brother into surgery. I remember the surgery took hours and when he came out he had a halo brace to keep his neck from moving. He had 4 screws in his skull and we had to clean the holes and screws everyday. I remember sleeping next to him every night and helping him up when he needed to get up.
As we got older, life happened. I spent more and more time with friends and sports and less time with my brother. I moved away from home for college. My brother would ask my parents to call me every night so that he could talk to me. Even though, he can’t really talk, he always said, “hi, I love you Niko, bye”.
My mother noticed he was getting lonelier and starting to get depressed. She decided to open up a home care for people similar to my brother. She told me that she wanted me to take it over one day. After college, I spent a year doing nothing but going out and having fun. I wanted to take over the family business but my parents wanted me to work for other people first. So for a few years, I had a few different jobs. I excelled at every job, moved up, then moved on.
I was able to travel a little bit during this time and I fell in love with it. Going new places, meeting new people and realizing just how similar we all are no matter where we’re from was just amazing to me and I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to take my brother to all these places around the world but I knew he would never appreciate or understand the different places we could go or care for the different experiences.
When I was able to save up enough money, I told my parents I’d pay for them to go travel, go on a vacation just the two of them. My parents changed their whole lives for us. My brother never spent a night without our parents for the first 25 years of his life. They took him/us everywhere. And if they couldn’t take us, they just wouldn’t go. It took me a while to convince them to go travel, enjoy some time alone, and leave my brother. Eventually they went on a trip and they had a great time and they left my brother at a short term home care facility where he ended up loving it.
Today, my brother is 36 years old and he is healthy and strong. He still lives at home with my parents and when times are normal, he goes to a day program.
I grew up thinking my brother was going to die at a young age and never live a full, happy life. I wanted more for him. I realized a few years ago that my brother doesn't have to be normal. Even though he can't always explain himself, I know he's smart. He constantly surprises me with his abilities. He is happy, healthy, and loved. He is perfect the way he is. He is and will always be a blessing, an inspiration, my motivation, and the best brother I could ever have. He’s now an uncle and he loves his little niece and she loves him as well. My baby girl asks me to call her uncle and FaceTime him. They always have the biggest smiles when FaceTiming each other nowadays.
I just looked this up right now —
“Life spans have increased dramatically for people with Down syndrome. Today, someone with Down syndrome can expect to live more than 60 years, depending on the severity of health problems.”
Crazy how much this has changed.
After a few years of working different jobs, moving up, getting paid, I realized no matter how good I was at my job, no matter how much value I gave to the company I was working for, no matter how much money I’d make, I’d always have a ceiling and I’d never be fulfilled. So I decided I had to do my own thing and work on something I was passionate about.
Almost 3 years ago, I started JETCET, (www.jetcetlife.com & @jetcetlife on IG) a travel lifestyle brand who’s vision is to "inspire the appreciation of journey, time, and community for every traveler”, through our products and content. It’s been an amazing ride and we continue to grow but what I am most proud of is that we are able to give back through JETCET.
A portion of every single JETCET sale goes directly to the nonprofit charity Campaign One At A Time, whose mission is to “provide positive experiences and fulfill the dreams of children fighting life threatening illness one child and one campaign at a time.”
I also personally try to help out at events whenever possible and bring my friends and family as well. I’ve found that seeing the happiness that we can bring these children and their families with even simple acts of kindness is one of the most fulfilling things we can do.
www.campaignoaat.org & @campaignoaat on IG
Around the same time that I decided to start my own business, my wife, Chiell Ann, also decided to leave her successful job to start her own business doing what she loves. She is a successful wedding and event planner & designer. www.chiellabrate.com & @chiellabrate_events on IG
We are now parents and we are also involved with The Spread Good Squad, which is a web series that follows the lives revolving around the non profit. www.spreadgoodsquad.com & @spreadgoodsquad on IG
We hope that one day, our baby daughter can be a part of the non profit charity and spread good herself. We would love for her to try and help other children who are in less fortunate situations.
My wife and I are also looking to take over the home care business that my parents are running one day soon. My parents have been retired from their government jobs but have still been running the home care. They continue to take care of my brother and others everyday.
In these unprecedented times, my business and my wife’s business have been pretty significantly impacted. Sales have slowed down for JETCET and there isn’t much certainty as to when people will be able to travel freely again. We are doing 25% off for the entire month of April to try and get some sales. We were able to help donate 5000 masks to local hospital. And we continue to look for ways to help.
Weddings and events that were planned these past couple of weeks and the months ahead have been postponed. So my wife’s been planning 2021 weddings and events.
Campaign One At A Time’s work continues as much as possible. In person events are cancelled but kids fighting life-threatening illnesses are still fighting and are already isolated but they are even much more isolated now. Things have gotten tougher for their families. So Campaign One At A Time continues to try and bring them happiness in any way they can.
“All of the children we service have compromised immune systems and their health is our number one priority. This has caused an influx of support needed from multiple families and we are doing our very best to send out as many care packages as possible during this time of darkness, and WE NEED YOUR HELP.”
I don’t know what the future holds for our businesses and all that we’re involved in. But I do know, that when things get back to normal, we’ll be hustling just as hard, if not harder than we were before. And we’re going to be doing it all for our families and each other. I believe that when things do get back to normal, people will appreciate their connections with their families and everyone else in the world at least a little bit more. So I’m taking this as a blessing.
Life’s slowed down significantly for my family as it has for many other people around the world. But we are blessed to be in the positions that we are in, to be at home, staying safe, trying to plan our businesses futures and taking care of each other and raising this cute little baby girl.
I’m personally enjoying life being a little slower and spending more time with my baby girl. I hope everyone’s doing well and taking care of themselves and others when and if they can.