When we last heard from Eduardo Franco Ramirez in mid-April, he was missing about a quarter of his skull. He has been so savagely beaten by thugs near his Aurora home that police who arrived on the scene thought he was dead.
He was rushed to the emergency department of the University of Colorado Hospital, less than a mile away. Doctors there saved his life. They did so in part by removing a segment of his skull to relieve brain swelling.
The beating and lifesaving surgery was in September 2013.
Former Rocky Mountain PBS I-News health writer Kristin Jones visited with Franco for the April story, describing his fear and isolation, his waking hours spent in a bike helmet to protect the deformed, concave side of his head.
His plight dramatically exemplified the quandary faced by many undocumented immigrant residents of Colorado and elsewhere who are in desperate need of specialized medical care.
As Jones reported, undocumented immigrants were left out of health care reform and are ineligible for Medicaid. Outside of life-or-death emergency room visits, they often have few options other than hospital charity care for otherwise urgent medical needs.
While University doctors saved his life, they, in particular, were prevented by state law from offering the non-emergency free surgery that would have made Franco’s skull whole again.
But that doesn’t mean they were uninvolved. Dr. Aviva Abosch, a CU neurosurgeon who helped care for Franco, wrote on his behalf to encourage fundraising for the surgery, noting that without it he was grave danger of further injury, paralysis and death.
Rich McLean and other parishioners at St. Therese Catholic Church in Aurora led the way, using a crowdfunding site called GiveForward.
After Jones’ story and after news of Franco’s desperate plight appeared on Telemundo, his GiveForward account grew to more than $8,000. And University stepped forward to accept those funds – perhaps 10 percent of the estimated cost – and performed the surgery on May 13.
“I can confirm that much,” said Jeff Thompson, the hospital’s vice president of government and corporate relations. “But we do not have a signed HIPPA release from Eduardo, so I can’t really go any further.”
Said McLean, “With all the bad news out there, this is a good news story. It is very good for Eduardo, obviously.”
Thompson agreed on the good news part, describing the outcome as “a very strong collaboration with the community and the hospital, and hopefully this young man can go forward.”
During the operation, doctors used the segment of original skull and reset it with screws, said Claudia Corona, and who has advocated for Franco, assisting with translation and other measures. She just finished her second year at University of Colorado Pharmacy School.
“He has been unable to work and make money for his family,” Corona said. “And really, that’s the whole reason that people come here, to be able to work. When they are unable to do that, the quality of life goes down very close to zero. That he was able to have the surgery is huge. I’m really glad … and surprised.”
Living with a complete skull again is taking some getting used to, Franco told I-News on Friday. He is still very much in the recuperation stage, with pain, and with a sensation that he has water sloshing within his skull.
The construction worker from Guatemala thinks it may be up to a year before he can work again. Corona doesn’t think it will take that long, but hopes that he can find work less arduous than construction.
The path ahead regarding his status is unclear. He lives with his sister, who works during the day. “I was suffering before and I’m still suffering,” he told I-News.
The much larger issue of health care for the undocumented, Thompson said, impacts hospitals across the country. The undocumented were left out of the Affordable Care Act, left out of Medicaid expansion, left out essentially from all health care reform. They are treated in emergency rooms, for which hospitals are often uncompensated, and in non-profit community clinics established to help them.
But that doesn’t touch specialized care.
The solution ultimately must come with comprehensive immigration reform, Thompson suggested.
Fortunately, thanks to the hospital and the community, Franco didn’t have to wait for that.
This story was updated on May 26, 2015.