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Near drowning accident leaves three-year-old with numerous medical issues

By: Angie Gambill

Every parent’s nightmare became a reality for Mario and Julie Ramsey Espinoza on April 2nd of this year when their three-year-old son, Alexander, was pulled from a swimming pool, unconscious and not breathing. The child was airlifted to the Johnson City Medical Center where he was placed on life support in the intensive care unit. His family waited and prayed for seven long, agonizing days for a sign of improvement from little Alex. Miraculously, he not only regained consciousness and was removed from life support but was discharged from the hospital 12 days later.
Although the Espinoza family is very grateful to still have their son with them, the incident did leave its mark on Alex. He has been plagued with abdominal and silent seizures and according to his neurologist is showing signs that his brain was affected by lack of oxygen during the time under water. “Sometimes he bangs his head on the wall, and he has been drooling. He didn’t do either of these things before the accident,” says his mother, Julie. She also reports panic attacks, nightmares and behavioral issues associated with the traumatic experience he endured.
Initially, Alex’s parents thought he had fallen into the water while trying to retrieve a ball from a four-foot in-ground pool. Family members say that he and his cousins were playing with the ball earlier in the day when it was accidentally knocked into the water. They believed he went back after it later and fell in trying to reach it. However, now the neurologist treating Alex says they may never know for sure if the seizures he is suffering from were caused by the accident, or if the fall into the water might have actually been caused by a seizure. Julie says they never knew he was seizing prior to this, if indeed he was. Since the episodes are largely unnoticeable to the untrained eye, simply appearing that the child has zoned out of what is going on around him and staring for a brief amount of time, they are often not detected immediately.
Little Alex is no stranger to medical issues as he was diagnosed with Autoimmune Neutropenia when he was only seven months old. Autoimmune Neutropenia is an abnormally low count of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that helps fight off infections, particularly those caused by bacteria and fungi. The lower your neutrophil count, the more vulnerable you are to infectious diseases. Alex has been in and out of the hospital for the duration of his short life for intravenous antibiotic treatments for constant infections. Although the description of Autoimmune Neutropenia puts one in mind of leukemia, that is not always the case. “The doctors have never seen any leukemia in Alex,” says Julie. “All leukemia patients do have Neutropenia, but all people with Neutropenia do not have leukemia.” Repeated and ongoing testing is necessary to monitor his neutrophil levels.
Alex’s numerous medical issues coupled with his 16-month-old brother that also has a medical condition has put an unbelievable strain on the Espinozas’ finances. The latest figure of a little over $200,000 for the med flight and hospital and doctor bills is staggering, but so far their insurance has covered everything from the April incident. “Our insurance covered the bills from Alex’s most recent hospitalization,” says Julie, “but they tell us that we are going to max out soon.”
Although Mario returned to work as quickly as they brought their son home from the hospital, Julie has had to abbreviate her work schedule considerably in order to take the three-year-old to multiple visits to Johnson City every week. Extensive testing is necessary to determine the severity of his ongoing problems, and hopefully, the eventual solution. In addition to the adverse effects mentioned earlier, Alex has also developed problems with his speech and difficulty using his left arm. Speech and physical therapy are necessary on an ongoing basis as well as visits to a neurologist. Of course, monitoring of the Autoimmune Neutropenia condition also continues.
Anyone wishing to donate funds to the Espinozas may do so through Rainbow Mennonite Church at Farmers State Bank. Deposits should be earmarked for the Espinoza family. Donations can also be made directly to the church.
Mario and Julie ask for prayer for their son’s healing and for peace and strength for them as they deal with each day’s challenges.