Her adopted parents, Modesto and Eloisa Perez Padilla, (her mother’s sister) sold their home and moved to the U.S. in search of doctors who could give their daughter better medical treatment and a fighting chance at life. They found that opportunity in the Southern state of Georgia under a Medicaid program that brought new hope to the Hispanic family.
After being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver years ago, Paz said she believes doctors at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, including Dr. Lanla Conteh, have finally pinpointed the cause of her current painful condition accurately. She was recently diagnosed with portal vein thrombosis, or PVT — a form of oxygen-poor blood in the veins and pulmonary arteries that clots, thereby affecting the hepatic (liver) portal vein, which is responsible for carrying blood from the bowels and other abdominal organs to the liver. It is a complication in patients with liver cirrhosis, according to the World Journal of Gastroenterology. When acute it can be a life-threatening condition.
“When I was 6 years old in Mexico I started throwing up blood,” Paz recalls. “My parents took me to the children’s hospital in Mexico City. The doctors did a biopsy on my liver. They told my parents they wanted to do more tests on me because my illness was so rare to see in a 6-year-old. My dad overheard them.”
According to Paz, what her father heard the doctors discussing was something he did not agree with and told the physicians in Mexico City that he wanted to take his daughter and leave. The doctors did not stand in his way.
“They told him ‘It is your responsibility if something happens to her,’” she said. “They also said, ‘She will not live pass her 13th year!’”
That’s when her family decided to make plans to leave Mexico and come to America, selling everything of value, including their home, to start a new life in the land of opportunity — one that might afford a fighting chance for their daughter. Paz was 10 when her family arrived in Atlanta. She said she was taken to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital, a pediatric physician teaching site for Emory University School of Medicine and Morehouse School of Medicine. There, she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and given medicines to treat her condition.
“They told me I would not be able to have kids no matter what,” Paz said. “When I got pregnant with Daniel, I was told I would have to have a miscarriage. I was six weeks pregnant at the time. They were going to give me a shot to miscarry, but the next day the doctor came in and said, ‘You miscarried by yourself. You do not need a shot.”
However, what no one realized, including Paz, was that she was carrying twins.
“About a month and a half later I went to check my iron levels because I’m anemic also,” she said. “They told me I had to go back to the hospital. When I went back they said I was almost four months pregnant! I said, ‘That’s impossible! I miscarried!’ That’s when I found out I was carrying twins. Daniel was born six weeks early.”
Paz calls her 23-month-old son her miracle child. Now she is hoping for another kind of miracle — one that will keep her health and life intact. The stay-at-home mom said she is having more health problems than ever due to PVT. Her options are to try and get on the organ donor list for a liver transplant as her condition worsens or for doctors to perform what is called a liver shunt — where a tube is placed between the portal vein which carries blood from the intestines to the liver and the hepatic vein, which carries blood from the liver back to the heart. By providing an artificial path for blood traveling from the intestines, through the liver, and back to the heart, a liver shunt reduces the pressure in the veins and prevents them from rupturing and bleeding.
“The doctors (at Vanderbilt) say it’s the same risk as if I had the transplant,” Paz explained. “Since I’m not that sick, they said they are going to put me on the (donor’s) list and I can try to wait it out. But if I get really sick they may want to do the (liver) shunt. It’s like a catheter on the veins so blood can flow through the liver. They say my portal vein is completely blocked now. I am in constant pain.”
As her conditions worsens, Paz said she expects to be placed on the organ donors’ list. Without insurance, she and her husband, George, are looking at an uncertain future. George, who works at Peyton Southeastern, will be able to get his wife on his insurance plan in February 2014, according to Paz. While she says her husband of three years has a permanent-resident visa, Paz is among the reported 4.4 million people in America still waiting for a green card.
“I’m not seeking money from the government,” Paz said. “But I am happy to be getting insurance because I need to have a better life for my baby. Right now I am taking a class to get my GED at the Bradley Adult Education Center so I can get a better job.”
Paz, who attends St. Therese Catholic church in Cleveland, pointed to the American Liver Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes liver health and disease prevention, while providing assistance to those affected by and at risk for liver disease. She said the agency accepts donations to be used exclusively for surgery when the time comes. Anyone can make a donation if they like.
“The only way donations will go to an individual is if the send a check or money order with that person’s name on it,” she said. “I just want a better life for me and my family.”
According to the U.S. State Department, there are more than 4.4 million people waiting for green cards. Of those, 1.3 million are from Mexico. The wait is at the center of the debate over whether to give an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally an easier route to citizenship as part of the sweeping immigration bill now in the Senate.