By LOIS KINDLE
Santiago Cardona’s mother, Rosario Mutis, was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. As a single mother, she was extremely close to her only son, and she was his best friend.
While the Apollo Beach resident was visiting her at Moffitt Cancer Center, the nurses discovered Cardona is a professional hair stylist. He learned from them that most cancer victims – out of embarrassment, sadness, not wanting to be around people and other reasons – avoid going to a salon, despite badly needing its services.
Mutis, a florist by trade, was always heavily involved in her community and thought her son also should be.
“She made me promise that no matter what happened to her, I would find a way to aid people like these through my work by giving back to the community,” Cardona said. “She died 12 weeks after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. She was 61.”
Cardona kept his word.
“Every time I learn now about anyone with cancer, a handicap or a physical or medical challenge, I want to help,” he said.
“My goal is to start a nonprofit organization and inspire other stylists and members of the community to get involved.
“I plan to call it Pink Days,” he added. “My mom’s favorite color was pink.”
Mutis would be proud of what her son is doing these days. He provides styling services at no cost either after hours in the Plush Hair Studio in Apollo Beach or in the person’s place of residence.
“I have a chair I can bring with me,” he said. “My services are private and strictly confidential.”
Plush Hair Studio owner Despina Maminakis fully supports him.
“I love the fact he’s using his talent and skills to give back and make people feel better,” she said. “I think it’s a beautiful thing.”
The people Cardona helps agree.
He recently serviced for the second time Connor O’Keefe, 22, who has a rare neurological and degenerative disease similar to but slower progressing than ALS. The young man has severe physical limitations and is confined to a wheelchair.
“I love Rosario,” said Connor’s mother, Karen. “I can’t find enough good things to say about him and his heart. He treats Connor like any other client but with a little more love.”
In early March, Ramona Kertman, 91, suffered a stroke, and her daughter, Lori Burrows, posted an online request for someone to come out to do her mom’s hair since she could no longer go out.
Cardona responded to Burrows and went to Kertman’s assisted living residence on March 20 to cut, wash and style her hair.
He carried with him a dozen pink roses, which he gently presented her when he arrived.
Afterward, Burrows posted she “was moved to tears by the kindness and care” Cardona gave her mother, noting she “relaxed in his hands and gave us a big smile when he was done.”
For Cardona, these services are simple acts of love.
“Taking care of this woman reminded me of taking care of my mother,” he said. “We were so close.
“When she was alive, I used to do her hair every month,” he continued. “I’m doing this now as her legacy to both honor her and continue her practice of giving back to the community.”
To request his free services for someone in need or to make an appointment for his regular styling services, call the Plush Salon at 813-645-5700.