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AARP The Magazine

Gloria and Emilio Estefan Have Rhythm — and Lots of Romance

Five decades, 26 Grammys and $700 million later, the couple revel in hard work, determination and the power of love

Gloria Emilio Estefan with family (Art Streiber)

Gloria Estefan gets cozy with her mom, Gloria Fajardo, 83, daughter, Emily, 18, and bulldog, Biggie. — Art Streiber

Tragedy and Recovery

But in 1990, at the Estefans' commercial peak, tragedy struck. The family of three was traveling at night on their tour bus in a snowstorm near Scranton, Pennsylvania, when a speeding semitrailer slammed into them. Gloria, then 32, was thrown across the coach. Hearing the sickening sound of her landing, Emilio, uninjured, rushed to her side as she screamed, "I broke my back!"

Still emotional years later, Emilio remembers the scene. "Everything was so dark," he begins. "'No, no!' I said. Then, 'Where's my kid? Nayib! Nayib!' " Moments later, the 9-year-old — who broke his collarbone in the crash — cried out. Emilio scooped him up and snuggled him next to his mother. "Even with the amount of pain that she was in, she comforted him," he says. "'Everything will be OK, baby. It's just an accident.' She is a very strong woman."

Still emotional years later, Emilio remembers the scene. "Everything was so dark," he begins. " 'No, no!' I said. Then, 'Where's my kid? Nayib! Nayib!' "

Moments later, the 9-year-old — who broke his collarbone in the crash — cried out. Emilio scooped him up and snuggled him next to his mother. "Even with the amount of pain that she was in, she comforted him," he says. " 'Everything will be OK, baby. It's just an accident.' She is a very strong woman."

At the hospital Gloria was hooked up to life support. The doctors told Emilio that she had come within a millimeter of severing her spinal cord and that, if she lived, her days of wearing high heels and dancing were over. Later, at a New York City hospital where she was transferred, a more optimistic team of surgeons inserted two 8-inch-long steel rods to support her spine, and Gloria announced, "I'm going to fight with everything I can to go back to my life."

See also: Getting back in the game of life after surgery

Today, wearing 4-inch heels, she jokes, "How do you pick up Gloria Estefan?" Pausing for comedic timing, she responds: "With a magnet."

But for the first weeks after the accident, Gloria was helpless, needing someone to turn her, dress her and bathe her. Get-well wishes came from fans worldwide. "I learned firsthand the power of prayer," Gloria says. "People will never realize how much their good thoughts helped me."

A year later, she was on stage.

Family Matters

At the time of the accident, the Estefans had been planning for another child, but due to internal injuries she suffered, Gloria began having trouble conceiving. Finally, after fertility treatments and surgery, she became pregnant, and Emily was born in late 1994. Today, her mother says, "I sit in awe of this little girl."

Now 18, Emily plays drums in a band called the Groove Dogz. (Gloria serves as their roadie.) She begins studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston this fall, and her mother calls her the family's best musician.

Nayib, now 32, writes songs and builds cases for electronic musical instruments. Like his father, who produced a documentary about the history of Cuban music, he's interested in filmmaking and hopes to one day make a movie of his own.

Both kids are proud of how their parents use their celebrity as a platform to help others. For example, in 1997 the couple started the Gloria Estefan Foundation to aid victims of spinal cord injuries and to support economically disadvantaged children. "My parents want to put good out into the world," says Emily, "to spread messages of love and hope."  

Next page: Gloria and Emilio give back to the community. »

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AT HOME WITH GLORIA AND EMILIO: Here's your invitation inside the Star Island, Miami Beach, home of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Grammy-winning music makers — and happliy married couple for 35 years.

 

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