McAllen teen begs governor for life-saving COVID treatment his mom needs

UPDATE 5:30 p.m.

Gov. Greg Abbott called the McAllen teen Wednesday evening to tell him his mother would be transferred to a medical facility outside the Rio Grande Valley to receive the care she needs. 

“I just spoke with Emilian Sosa about his mom,” the governor said in a Tweet shortly before 5 p.m. “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.”

Rosa Gutierrez, the teen’s aunt, said her sister would be transferred via plane. She couldn’t remember the name of the facility where she is headed, but said the flight is expected to take about an hour. 

Calderon will be transferred to Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center, according to information from the governor’s office.

“It has to be today. There’s not a lot of time,” Gutierrez said the family was told about the transfer.

Emilian Sosa, 14, plays the violin for his mother, who is seen on the laptop screen at her hospital bed, through a Zoom call on Wednesday in McAllen. Rosa Gutierrez, Emilian’s aunt, films the performance. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)
UPDATE 3:30 p.m.

A team of doctors from Houston has arrived at DHR Health via helicopter to evaluate Erika Calderon, 48, and possibly transfer her to a medical facility in Houston where the therapy that her family is seeking is offered, according to Alonzo Cantu, a non-physician member of the hospital system’s Board of Managers. 

The team arrived shortly after 3 p.m. with the help of Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, Alonzo said. 

The family has received an outpouring of support following their plea to the governor Tuesday night, including from U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, who personally called the family and began searching hospitals for capacity.

Emilian Sosa, 14, receives word his mother will be transferred to a hospital in Houston on Wednesday in McAllen. His mother, Erika Calderon, can be seen at her hospital bed on the laptop held by Emilian’s aunt, Rosa Gutierrez. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — A 14-year-old sent a letter to the governor Tuesday asking for his help in airlifting his mother to a hospital outside the Rio Grande Valley because the life-saving treatment she needs is not available here.

Emilian Sosa, 14, says his mother Erika Calderon has been battling COVID-19 for more than 20 days and needs Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) therapy to help her recover. The treatment would oxygenate her blood outside her body to allow her lungs and heart to rest. 

“At this very moment, she is on a ventilator, hanging on for dear life, at the DHR Health Covid Unit in Edinburg,” Sosa’s letter reads. “I beg of you to please make it possible for my mother to receive the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) therapy.”

Sosa goes on to explain that the treatment is only offered in metropolitan areas outside the region, including Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. 

“My mother has always worked diligently all her life to raise me. She is a hard-working single mother, and she is the only family I have left,” the 14-year-old wrote, noting his father has been absent from his life. ”Without her I would be devastated.”

But in order to move his mother to another medical facility where the treatment is offered, the family has to pay for her to be airlifted, and that can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000, depending on which hospital has space for her.

Marcy Martinez, a spokeswoman at DHR Health, said Tuesday that everyone has to pay for transportation in some capacity, but noted that the charges do not come from the hospital. Instead, they are paid to the ambulance company that performs the difficult job of moving an intubated patient.

To that end, the family started a GoFundMe page Tuesday night. And after Sosa’s letter began circulating on social media sites, the donations began pouring in. As of 9:45 a.m. Monday, the family had surpassed their goal of $20,000, with nearly 400 people donating a total of $20,079. 

When asked what motivated him to write the governor, Sosa said he knew he had to get the attention of a high-ranking official. Admittedly, he’s unsure what exactly Abbott’s office can do for him, but he knew he had to try. 

“I am confident this is going to work,” Sosa said Tuesday night. “It has to.”

But whether the letter has reached Abbott’s office, is not yet known. The Monitor reached out to governor spokesman John Wittman on Wednesday morning and is waiting for a response. 


nlopez@themonitor.com