Amane Robale is adjusting her mom's bed while chatting with her. "Hey, mama. Hi, mama. How are you? How's your day?"
Her mom, unable to speak, quietly moans. Robale turns on her mom's feeding tube.
Her mom needs total care because of a massive stroke she suffered in 2007 when Robale was just 14.
More From RadioActive
"It was really hard on us," Robale remembered. "There was 10 of us and she was pretty much our support system. She was the one that did everything for us and all of a sudden she's not there."
Instead, it’s fallen on Robale to take care of her younger siblings. But despite all that responsibility, she finished high school and is pushing toward a career in medicine.
Amane Robale was born in Seattle, but her parents were from Nazret, Ethiopia. They migrated to the U.S. in the early 1990s because they wanted to raise their kids in a place where they'd have more opportunities.
When they arrived, they didn't speak any English and had to learn everything pretty much on their own. They didn't have a lot of money. Her dad's first job was as a waiter at Denny's. Her mom got a job at Goodwill a few years later. Six of the family’s 10 children were born here.
"My dad is really hard working," said Robale, now 21. "But my mom was also a wonderful woman. She was very supportive and she was always there for us, and she made sure that everything was ... perfect."
And then it wasn't perfect.
When Robale's mom had the stroke, her father told her and all the older kids what had happened. The younger kids thought she went on vacation for a really long time.
As the oldest daughter, Robale had to fill this huge role and play mom to her six younger siblings. At the age of 14, it wasn't something she thought she'd ever have to do. Even with the help of her older siblings, she still had to put aside her friends. Instead of participating in after-school activities, Robale had to make sure her younger siblings had something to eat when they got home.
She was also the one who would take them to the hospital if one was sick. "When they had stomach aches, when they had ear infections, I was there with them." Meanwhile, she was also visiting her mom regularly in the hospital.
Robale had always been a good student. She wanted to become a doctor. Now she had other things to think about. "My school work was getting piled up because I had other responsibilities," she said. "School wasn't my main focus."
Robale's dad started to worry for her, so he sent her to Ethiopia in 2010 to take a break from everything. When she got there, she saw poverty everywhere. "I was walking through the streets and it was really sad," she remembered. "There were so many people that were poor and homeless. They were on the streets begging for money, begging for food."
Robale said there weren't a lot of doctors in Ethiopia, which she calls her home country. She decided she would realize her dream of becoming a doctor, then go back to Ethiopia to help people. She knew that to do that, she'd have to get back to her studies. So when she came back, that's exactly what she did.
By then, Robale's mom had moved back home from the hospital. Having the whole family help out gave Robale the time to finish high school and get her associate’s degree. She's now transferring to the University of Washington and is volunteering at Virginia Mason.
Robale loves having her mom in the house. Now they can always be around her, even though she can't respond like other mothers.
"Sometimes it's really frustrating for us because we want her to talk back to us, we want her to give us advice, but she can't," said Robale. "We don't know what she's thinking and we don't know what she's feeling."
But despite that, she never goes a day without talking to her mom. Robale chats with her while adjusting her bed and changing her feeding tubes. The whole family takes turns caring for her.
This experience with her mom has helped Amane Robale become the independent, determined woman she is. She thinks her mom would be proud of her. She believes that she couldn't have done it without her.