Sick young mom clings to hope in Vail Valley
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Karol Rubi is noticeably sick. Curled up under a Snuggie inside her father’s Avon trailer, the pretty 27-year-old looks exhausted. For 12 years, the single mom has been coping with an autoimmune disorder doctors discovered during her pregnancy.
“She’s critically ill,” Rubi’s doctor, Kent Petrie, said. “She could get very sick, very fast, at any time.”
Unable to work because she’s too ill, Rubi doesn’t have enough money for the medical treatment she needs. Her stepmom decided to call the newspaper in hopes of getting some financial support from the community.
Tears stream down Angie Meza’s face as she describes how serious her stepdaughter’s condition has become. “She’s so young and to think her life could be cut short because of this…”
Meza closes her eyes as if to shut out the thought.
Lifting up her shirt, Rubi exposes her swollen belly. Bulging, blue veins snake across her torso – evidence of her circulation problems.
Opening her mouth, Rubi reveals the shattered remnants of her teeth. Gaping holes interrupt her smile. A rotted, cracked protuberance is all that’s left of her front teeth.
The trouble started when Rubi, at age 15, became pregnant with her son. Doctors discovered she had HEELP syndrome, a variation of pre-eclampsia marked by high blood pressure, liver damage and bleeding.
“That prompted us to deliver her little boy early – it was about a month early,” Petrie recalled. “The only cure for this complication of pre-eclampsia is delivery of the baby. It can be life-threatening.”
Rubi survived, but a mystery remained.
“The question was: Why would this teenager have such a severe complication of pregnancy?” Petrie said. “And the answer was that she has what’s called an autoimmune disease.”
Pain is nothing new for Rubi. Diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome 12 years ago, she feels like her body is shutting down. After developing blood clots in her liver, arms, leg and brain, she experienced a myriad of related problems. Her teeth wore down. She became anemic. Thick new veins sprouted on her belly. Just this week, she developed bronchitis and a dangerous swelling of her spleen.
The great sorrow of her life, though, is the fact that she has been forced to give up custody of her son. Rubi’s 12-year-old son now lives in Eagle with his father, Rubi’s ex-boyfriend.
“I gave him up to him because of my sickness, because I could not take care of him,” she said.
Rubi’s long hospital stays have been like fault lines creeping across the relationship with her son.
“He’s always mad and upset and says he’s mad at God,” she said. “There are a lot of things I would like to do with him and I can’t because I can’t keep up with him.”
What Rubi needs most immediately is an operation on her teeth, Petrie said. Her teeth must be removed and replaced with dentures.
“Those very bad teeth put her at risk of blood stream infections and worsening her condition,” said Petrie, a physician with Colorado Mountain Medical in Edwards.
The setback: Rubi’s Medicare will not cover the operation, which needs to be done in a hospital and could cost up to $20,000. Along with work on her teeth, doctors think Rubi will one day need a liver transplant. Yet Rubi said she lacks the thousands of dollars she needs to get on the waiting list for a new liver.
Growing sicker by the day, Rubi has tried reaching out to the community for financial help but that didn’t work out. “I had little jars out with my picture explaining what I had,” Rubi said.
Rubi’s stepmom has decided to get involved. She hopes an article in the newspaper will inspire people in the community to donate money to a local cause. Rubi grew up in Avon and lives in Gypsum.
“To me, it’s very frustrating knowing that there are answers out there but nothing is being done,” Meza said. “But there’s hope out there. It’s not the end.”
Rubi has to take a break during the interview. A coughing fit forces her to use her inhaler. She is preparing mentally for yet another hospital stay. Her spleen is so swollen, she needs special medical attention. Family members say Rubi is in danger of giving up hope.
“At night, I’m sometimes scared to fall asleep,” Rubi said. “I get really bad heart problems. Sometimes when I’m sleeping, I wake up gasping for air.”
“My son is the only thing that keeps me going.”
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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