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  • Writer's picturePura Vida Connections

My Tico Heart; Katya De Luisa, Murphy's Law

It was 2003 when I returned to Costa Rica. The country was just beginning to become aware of Alzheimer’s and dementia. The Blanco Cervantes Geriatric Hospital’s memory clinic was part of an international study on dementia. Their statistics indicated 25,000 Costa Ricans were diagnosed at that time. This didn’t account for the thousands undiagnosed or whose families were told by doctors their loved one’s memory loss and confusion was part of getting older. The latter was a widespread diagnosis, especially in rural areas.

It seemed like the perfect time to return to Costa Rica, and I was excited to share what I’d learned in the US about dementia. I researched several elder organizations and discovered ASCADA, Asociacion Costarricense de Alzheimer’s y Otras Dementias Asociadas, the country Alzheimer's Association. They held monthly presentations on dementia at the Ambassador hotel, and scores of families and medical professionals attended regularly. The deceased owner of the hotel had suffered from Alzheimer's, and his wife had donated the use of their conference room.

During one of these presentations, I met Jenny Mora, the vice-president of the Association. She specialized in geriatric psychology and owned and operated Casa Sol, one of the country’s first senior activity centers. I showed her the literature on the picture communication technique I’d developed while working with the Alzheimer’s Association in Florida. She immediately recognized the value of the process and scheduled a presentation for me at the hotel, and offered to regularly host my caregiver training workshops at Casa Sol in Santa Ana.

My CCT program was well received. I offered regularly scheduled workshops at Casa Sol and training at several nursing homes. Jenny also recommended my work to several of the Costarrican upper-class families. I did assessments of their loved one’s abilities, created care plans, and trained their home staff. I also conducted a class at the Geriatric Hospital training the staff working in the memory clinic on improving communication with their patients with dementia.

Proud Olga

Upon returning to the country, I’d bought a car and rented a beautiful three-bedroom house with an incredible view of the central valley in the mountains above Cuidad Colon. However, it was pretty expensive, so I found a roommate to share expenses. My life seemed on the upswing, and I was thrilled to be back in the country. However, after a couple years, this changed. It seemed the pattern of my life was always a roller coaster of highs and lows; what goes up must come down. Actually, this is life's pattern for everyone; it's just the majority of people's swings weren’t as dramatic as mine.

What I charged for my services in Costa Rica was considerably less than in the US. The country’s eldercare was still an infant industry, and job offers began to dry up. I continued to generate income with art sales, but my savings ran out, my roommate and I parted ways, and I couldn't afford the large house anymore and moved out.

My son, Mauricio, was still in prison, but I couldn't bring myself to visit. Getting drugs in prison was easy, and every visit, he was high, and if I brought him anything, he’d trade it for drugs. My other boys were doing well living in the US, but we didn’t have much contact. Trevor lived on an organic farm in Hawaii, and Damon had gotten married and lived in Venice, Florida. Basically, I had no family here.

In early life, I’d been diagnosed as bipolar, a condition both my parents suffered. However, unlike those with the typical manic/depressive episodes, bipolar 2 meant I could still function. During the depression, I perceived it as a time to rest and create art. The manic occurrences generated high energy, and the inspiration usually led to new projects or relocation.

Throughout the years, I’d periodically dealt with alcohol issues. Although I didn't drink every day, when I got involved in the San Jose art scene, that began changing as many of my artist friends had substance problems. I joined an ex-pat AA group in Escazu and stopped alcohol completely, and later quit the pot. I’d always stayed away from the pharmaceutical medications for bipolar, knowing those would become a lifelong habit.

The next six months became a testament to Murphy’s Law; “Whatever can go wrong does.”

Bill White had created an art colony in Cuidad Colon where he offered an international artist in residence program. He held monthly events where the visiting artists presented what they had created during their stay at the colony; mostly ex-pats, including myself, attended. I was overjoyed when he offered me a cut-rate on a studio; however, he didn’t allow dogs, and I had Sibu, an 80 lb. Shepard mix I adored.

Art Colony

I wasn’t willing to give him up. Instead, I rented a ratty apartment in town that consistently smelled of sewer gas emanating from the shower drain. Eventually, I realized my uncertain mental state and circumstances weren’t fair to him. My heart broke the day I delivered him to his new forever home in Escazu, and I vowed never to have another pet.

After losing Sibu, the depression continued to deepen. My return to Costa Rica had such high expectations, and now it looked like a big mistake. Why did I come back when my life in Florida was going so well? My new career had been thriving and I loved living at the art colony in Sarasota.

“What the hell was I thinking!”

My explanation to myself was Costa Rica was the only place I’ve ever lived that really felt like home. During my short-lived Tico marriage in the '80s, I had nationalized as a Costa Rican citizen. No immigration or work visa problems to deal with, and I even donated my body to the medical school. Eventually, it was where I planned to “Rest in Pieces” after my death. All of the above had influenced my decision to return to Pura Vida. Still, most of all, it was because I had gotten homesick. I never assessed what I was giving up in Florida or if it had indeed been the right decision to return.

I’ve always been blessed that in my darkest moment, the light eventually breaks through. During my time working with the Alzheimer’s Association in Florida, I presented my program at several Conferences on Aging, which were very effective networking venues.

At one of these conferences, I’d met a woman who was the director of a Hospice organization in Springfield, Missouri. Just when I felt I’d reached the bottom of the well of my misery in Costa Rica, out of the blue, she contacted me to host a three-day seminar on my CCT process. They would pay my daily rate plus travel expenses.

“One door closes, and another opens," and I excitedly began to develop the itinerary for the seminar. This was my first experience conducting a three-day symposium and charged $1,000 daily; the going rate during that time. Everything became suddenly easy.

While living in Mexico in the early '70s with my four-year-old son, my Mexican fiancée was shot and killed by Federal police (again, another story). I was devastated and wanted to leave Zihuatanejo, where we'd been living for over two years. But I couldn’t decide whether stay in Mexico and relocate to Isla Mujeres on the other side of the country or go back to the US. Then a wise friend told me something I'd never forgotten. “Katya, just take the road of least resistance.” That same week, I encountered a couple driving to the Yucatan, and they offered to take us. The road of least resistance had appeared.

Zihuatanejo, Mexico

This seminar opportunity was the road of least resistance and it led me to Missouri. Again, I boarded a plane in high spirits and trusted that another direction would undoubtedly appear when the seminar ended. I'd recognize it because of its lack of resistance.

As the plane gained altitude, I watched the beautiful green mountains of my beloved Costa Rica get smaller, and at one point, I could see both coasts. What a tiny country and yet what a huge impact it had on my life. I reminisced about the past and how the good and bad experiences had formed the person I was today. There was a moment when I missed those early pioneer days. The country was still a frontier, my children were small, and my youthful exuberance was boundless. But then the stewardess appeared and asked what I'd like to drink. I wiped the tears from my eyes and asked for coffee.

I was leaving Costa Rica with no regrets but also leaving with the certainty I’d eventually return.


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