NORMAN — Two days before the end of the school year, Erika Ramirez was looking forward to summer vacation and then entering the fifth grade at Truman Elementary School.
That late May morning, however, she became ill on the playground, complaining of stomach pain and dizziness, said her father, Carlos Guerra.
A school employee called Erika's mother, Teresa Ramirez, who worked at a Norman restaurant. She took Erika home from school, Guerra said, but his daughter continued to complain of nausea and stomach pain. A trip to the emergency room followed.
From there, she was transferred by ambulance to Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City, where she spent a week in intensive care, said Blanca Rangel, a family friend and Erika's godmother.
Diagnostic tests revealed kidney failure, Rangel said.
Now the family has been told that Erika will need a kidney transplant. She has been getting dialysis three times a week, Rangel said, and is under a restricted diet.
Erika is not allowed to eat fish, cheese, dairy products, tomatoes, spicy foods or salt. Chicken must be boiled.
She is on a transplant waiting list.
“They have no idea what happened,” Rangel said of Erika's illness. “They (Erika's doctors) are saying her kidneys are too small for her body, and have stopped growing.”
Rangel said up to the time she became ill, Erika had been an active 10-year-old. She enjoys reading and writing.
“She is also interested in dancing,” Rangel said.
Pay up front
Guerra said the family has been told a kidney transplant operation will cost up to $250,000, and must be paid up front.
Guerra works as a cook at a Norman hotel, but was off work for two weeks while Erika was in Children's Hospital.
He took another part-time job to help make ends meet after Erika became ill, but quit the second job so he could be available to help with Erika's care. Teresa Ramirez left her job to care for Erika.
Eight medications prescribed for Erika are running about $400 a month, said Guerra, 31.
The family has no health insurance, Rangel said.
The family has had two garage sales to raise money for Erika's care.
Guerra said Erika had been a very healthy child. He and Teresa Ramirez came to the United States from Mexico 12 years ago. The couple have three other children.
Rangel said a fund to assist with Erika's medical expenses has been set up at BancFirst in Norman. Donations to Erika's Kidney Transplant Fund can be made at any BancFirst location in Oklahoma, and can be made anonymously if the donor prefers.
Rangel said about $3,300 has been donated to the fund so far.
Debbie Nelson, vice president of the parent-teacher group at Truman Elementary, said parents are working to organize an unofficial fundraiser to assist the family in hopes of raising up to $50,000.
The fundraiser likely will take place in August, and details will be announced when plans are complete, Nelson said.
Meanwhile, Erika sits quietly inside the family's home in west Norman, waiting and hoping that she will be able to enter fifth grade when classes begin in August.