I met the Zuniga family about 3 years ago. Betsy their second daughter played on the same soccer team as my daughter Sophia. They were a hard working family trying to get the best education for their four kids. Raul and Maria had fled Mexico with their oldest two daughters after Raul was kidnapped and extorted for money. Raul survived the ordeal only to find the same gang threatening him and his family again. Raul decided to flee to the US and start over. Maria joined him with Brehizy and Betsy and Bridgett and Landon were born in Atlanta.
When Betsy and Sophia were selected for different teams I lost contact with them.
This fall, our daughters were reunited on a U17 soccer team from Norcross. I reconnected with Raul and Maria and found out that Raul had been ill. The team was trying to raise funds for the family (raised $2000) thinking Raul would be having surgery at Emory. I asked Raul what his diagnosis was and he said Arnold Chiari, a congenital brain malformation that is hampering his ability to work and live a normal life. He has severe headaches, dizziness, cognitive defects, bilateral numbness, tingling, and pain in both his arms and legs. The only cure for this disorder is surgery. He told me the surgery at Emory was at a standstill since the hospital was asking for $30,000 up front.
The U17 team decided to step in and help them. Dr. Tom Burns, a neuro psychiatrist at Children's Hospital, referred us to Dr. Kevin Stevenson a neurosurgeon in Macon. Raul went down to see Dr. Stevenson, who after a neurological exam and viewing the MRI (which Raul was still paying back $5000) concurred that Raul needed surgery. Dr. Stevenson agreed to operate pro bono and then referred the case to a local Hospital in Macon. The Hospital representative called and asked me how much money the family had saved up for the surgery. Raul had $4000. The hospital agreed to do the surgery for that amount of money.
Raul's condition has gotten progressively worse and he has been unable to work every day. I called Dr. Stevenson who called in some tramadol for the pain in his legs and this seems to have relieved some of the pain.
I have been amazed by how many the girls on the team, the parents on the team, Sergio Magana Norcross soccer coach, Duluth High School students and parents, Vince Hayes soccer coach and high school teacher, Dr. Burns, Dr. Stevenson have given to this family. Raul and Maria have four children: Brehisy (20), Betsy (16), Bridgett (8), and Landon (5). Brehisy was enrolled in University in Mexico and was on the U18 National Soccer team. She left her schooling and soccer to return and help her family. Betsy is a senior at Duluth High School. Bridgett and Landon are in the Gwinnett Public Schools. Maria helps Raul when she can with his landscaping business but has trouble with the physicality of the work.
I am making one last effort to get donations for the family. We are awaiting a date for the surgery. Raul is trying to work as much as possible. I have another $1000 (from donations) for the family but I am thinking they will need rent, food, and living expenses postop. If the surgery goes well Raul will spend 3-4 days in the hospital. A team parent Mathew Holland has offered his Hilton points so Maria will have a hotel room, no charge, for five days. Vince Hayes, at Duluth High School, has adopted the family for Christmas and so they are covered in that aspect. I am trying to set up a website to ask for some more donations to cover the recovery period which should be 1-2 months.
This has been an incredible "it takes a village" moment in time. I am awed by the generosity of the many involved and we are hoping to get Raul into surgery to stop the progression of this condition.
Any advice, ideas, donations welcomed.