McALLEN — Emilian Sosa’s faith moved mountains Wednesday, when the 14-year-old was able to catch the governor’s attention and his subsequent help in getting his gravely ill mother the medical attention she needs.
For more than three weeks, the McAllen teen’s mother Erika Calderon had been battling COVID-19 at DHR Health in Edinburg, but the 48-year-old woman was losing her fight and in desperate need of a medical treatment not offered in the Rio Grande Valley.
“At this very moment, she is on a ventilator, hanging on for dear life,” Sosa told Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter he wrote Tuesday. “I beg of you to please make it possible for my mother to receive the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) therapy.”
In his letter, Sosa explained that the procedure — meant to oxygenate blood outside the body during lung and heart transplants — was only available in larger metropolitan areas, and it was his mother’s “only hope.”
“Right now, the only way I’ve been able to communicate with her has been through Zoom calls, where I have been playing hymns on the violin to motivate her, but her condition is deteriorating,” he said.
His mom has made it her life’s mission to ensure he succeeds, and that includes taking him to his “races, concerts and most importantly to church services.”
“She is a hard-working single mother, and she is the only family I have left,” the 14-year-old wrote. ”Without her I would be devastated.”
Additionally, he will be turning 15 years old next week and there’s nothing more he wants than to have his mother by his side, Sosa told Abbott.
“The best gift that I could receive would be the news that you are providing my mother with the opportunity to receive the ECMO therapy,” he wrote. “I beg of you to please make this a reality and help me bring my mother back home.”
On Wednesday, the fates obliged.
As part of their effort to transport his mother to another hospital via air ambulance, Sosa’s family set up a GoFundMe page Tuesday afternoon.
The family had been told that in order to transport his mother to another facility, they would have to cover the cost of the air ambulance company upfront, and it could run anywhere between $8,000 and $20,000, depending on which hospital had a bed available.
So the family decided to publish Sosa’s letter in a last-ditch effort to raise enough money to save his mom.
Soon, the donations started pouring in, as others called on Abbott to help the young man.
By about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the family had reached its goal of $20,000. But for Sosa and his aunt Rosa Gutierrez, who is taking care of the teen, the money was just one of the hurdles they had to clear.
By midday Wednesday, the pair looked tired. Neither of them had gotten a good night’s rest and it became painfully obvious when the teen briefly lost his sense of time.
“Today is Monday,” Sosa said matter-of-factly.
“No, my love, it’s Wednesday,” his aunt replied.
Sosa had positioned himself at the dining room table, where he tried to follow a science lecture on plants and the effect of gravity on their growth.
“Plants are hormonal, just like you teenagers,” his teacher could be heard saying on the other end of his laptop.
But following the lecture was almost impossible as he fielded dozens of calls and text messages from family, friends, the media and medical personnel.
“Tia, they’re calling you from Univision,” Sosa said, poking his head above the screen.
“Right now, we’re back and forth,” an apologetic Gutierrez told The Monitor in Spanish.
At some point, someone from the hospital called to tell them that his mother was running a fever and that her potassium was low. Staff had administered Tylenol and were using a cold blanket to control her temperature.
It could complicate a transfer, they were told.
“The more we waste time, the more I feel my sister is gonna leave us,” a worried Gutierrez said.
By this time, the family had already fielded a call from U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, who assured the family he was doing his best to find a facility that could offer ECMO therapy.
They also found out that Sosa’s mom was already on a waiting list at a hospital in San Antonio.
“I ask myself: Why are there no machines? Why can’t the government buy them for the people who don’t have the money necessary and need those therapies,” a frustrated Gutierrez asked rhetorically. “Why only in the big cities? Why do only certain people have the right to this therapy? We’re human, We’re the same.”
Sosa tried his best to follow another lecture, and then another call came in. His mother would be visible in a Zoom call at 1:30 p.m.
So another round of calls went out to family members and close friends who wanted to give his mother words of encouragement via a tangled web of technology that involved a laptop, a phone and two tablets.
“Hi mom, it’s Emilian. We’re next to you,” the teenager told his mom when the call began. “Remember that we love you so much. Have faith in God that we’re going to get through this. We’re all here. We’re praying so that you get out of there soon.
“I’m gonna play some songs for you so they can be great blessings for you,” he said as he positioned his instrument on his shoulder. “Remember that.”
Sosa played several sorrowful church hymns on his violin before others began sending their best to the woman who lay unconscious on the other side of the screen.
“Erika, we’re here — Emilian and me. We’re waiting for you, sister. Soon you’re going to be OK,” Gutierrez said. “Mom sends you a big hug and says that you know that God is with you and won’t let your hand go.”
The family spent about 15 minutes on the call before hospital staff notified them that they had been on mute. So Sosa once again rallied the troops on his tangled web of technology and they once again sent the woman their best wishes, hymns and all.
‘NOT MUCH TIME’
Shortly before 5 p.m., Sosa’s call for help was answered by the governor himself.
His office had been working with DHR Health and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to find a facility where his mom could receive the ECMO therapy she so desperately needed.
Abbott called the teen personally to tell him that a place had been secured for his mom at Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center and that a team of physicians from Houston was making their way to Edinburg to evaluate and escort his mother there.
“I just spoke with Emilian Sosa about his mom,” the governor said in a Tweet after the phone call. “We are helping his mom right now. With the help of Nim Kidd, the Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management & Dr. Zerwas, the equipment his mother needs was located. She should be in good medical care.”
Needless to say, Gutierrez and Sosa were ecstatic.
“Ay, mijo is very happy. But right now he’s starting to call his teachers and everyone else who has been offering support, and I think I’m gonna go to the hospital to be close and take him,” Gutierrez said.
Both, however, knew the worst was not over.
“She’s gravely-ill, but she’ll make it there,” Gutierrez said the governor told her nephew.
Still, time was of the essence.
“It has to be today,” Gutierrez said medical staff told her. “There’s not much time.”
The team, which arrived shortly after 3 p.m., had not left the Valley as of press time Wednesday.