Margie Rios' and Alex Fernandez's hearts sank nine months ago when they found their baby, Italia, unconscious and blue at their Merced home.
Italia was 7½ months old at the time.
Today, they're hoping that a specialized procedure done in China can help their daughter recover and become a healthy child. The procedure can be done in the United States, but it's not top-rated as it is in China.
Rios said she thought she was choking and tried to wake her up with cold water, but there wasn't much of a response.
Soon after, the paramedics arrived, and she was taken to Mercy Medical Center. Italia was at Mercy for just a few hours before she was transported to Children's Hospital Central California.
She was there for two weeks at the pediatric intensive care unit.
Italia was getting better, but suddenly she suffered a relapse and started to experience extreme seizures. Test after test, doctors concluded she had viral encephalitis — an inflammation of the brain, Rios said. Doctors told the family there was a possibility the viral encephalitis could have been triggered by an ear infection the baby had earlier that month.
As a result of the brain damage Italia experienced from the seizures, she was recently diagnosed with spastic quadriparesis, which is one of the most severe forms of cerebral palsy that affects all four limbs. This form of cerebral palsy can occur when the part of the brain that controls the muscles is damaged. The condition has left Italia's muscles stiff, and she has little control over them.
Rios said before the incident happened, Italia was already starting to learn how to sit, crawl and roll over. She was on track like any other baby.
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ce then, she has lost her balance.
Today, Italia still can't walk or crawl. “She was robbed of her normal life,” Rios said. “No baby deserves that.”
Most babies with cerebral palsy are born with the disease. Italia wasn't. Now it's unknown whether she'll ever be able to walk.
But her parents are trying to raise $40,000 to take her to China to get an umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant. Fernandez said the stem cell transplant would replace the stem cells Italia lost because of her brain damage.
The transplant would be coordinated through Beike Biotechnology, a Shenzhen, China-based company whose scientists have been developing and commercializing adult stem cell therapies since 1999, according to its website.
Beike's cutting-edge technology prepares the cells to treat numerous illnesses, such as brain injury, cerebral palsy, diabetic foot disease, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, among others, according to its website. The stem cells are donated by people who are carefully screened for transmissible diseases.
“Some of the kids go in there in wheelchairs — and they'll be crawling by the time they leave,” Fernandez said.
He said as soon as the money for the transplant is secured, a representative from Beike will guide them through the entire process. The representative will assist them from the minute they board a plane to China until the minute they board a plane to come back home.
The procedure takes about a month, Fernandez said. “We will do anything we can to raise the money,” Rios said. She stopped working and has put school on hold to dedicate her time to Italia.
Fernandez said they'll do several fund-raisers and will deploy several donation jars in various places to raise money. He said other people who have taken their children to China to get similar transplants have been able to raise the funds. “It's relieving to know that they were just like us,” Rios said.
Fernandez said they only want to watch their daughter return to normality. “We just want to see her run and play,” he said. “That's the biggest thing for us.”
The couple hopes to be able to raise the $40,000 over the next three years.