‘I couldn’t pay the bills’: Son’s epilepsy upends Napa family’s finances

Eva Espinosa and Hector Torres cook beef with green chili at their home on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, in Napa, CA. Photo: Constanza Hevia H. / Special to The Chronicle

When her husband called unexpectedly in the middle of a workday in April, Eva Espinosa didn’t know what she would hear on the other line. Within seconds, her life was changed.

Her 18-year-old son had suffered a seizure and had fallen and hit his head on the floor, Espinosa said.

It was the first time her son, Miguel Angel Torres, had had one.

Espinosa dropped her head into her hands.

“I was crying and I said, ‘No, why Miguel?’” she said in Spanish through a translator. “I had an anxiety attack.”

Espinosa didn’t know who to call — who could go pick up Miguel from school? Who could be with him until the ambulance arrived?

She wiped the tears from her eyes, shakily gripped her car keys and drove to Napa High School, where Miguel was a senior. When Espinosa arrived, Miguel was still convulsing on the floor waiting for an ambulance.

He was soon diagnosed with epilepsy. People can be diagnosed with epilepsy at any age, but diagnoses are most common in people under the age of 20 and over the age of 65, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Over the next several weeks, Espinosa, a housekeeper, and her husband, a farmworker, took off from work for a couple of weeks to care for their son.

They didn’t know how they would make ends meet. Within the first month of Miguel’s diagnosis, bills started piling up. With the month coming to end, the family had to come up with what felt like an insurmountable amount: $1,500 for rent, $300 for a car payment, $400 for insurance and $85 for electricity.

“It was too much because I wasn’t working,” Espinosa said. “I couldn’t pay the bills.”

In addition to Miguel, Espinosa has two other children who live with her — a 19-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter.

Then the Season of Sharing stepped in and helped the Espinosa family with rent assistance, allowing them to stay in their two-bedroom Napa home. The fund works year-round to prevent homelessness and hunger in the nine-county Bay Area. All donations go directly to help people in need, with administrative costs covered by The Chronicle and the Walter and Evelyn Haas Jr. Fund.

“She and her husband had to stop working for approximately two weeks to be able to care for their child who has health problems,” said Blanca Macias, Espinosa’s caseworker at the Neighborhood Initiative, a Napa organization that provides resources to families. “If they had not received the funds to cover the rent, they would most likely have received the three-day notice to vacate the property.”

Now Espinosa, 40, said she can focus on her son as he learns to live with epilepsy, a neurological disorder.

“She is very responsible for her family and does everything possible to support her children,” Macias said.

In the immediate aftermath of Miguel’s diagnosis in April, Espinosa attended every doctor’s appointment with him. Some days were spent entirely with the doctor.

There was the MRI. An appointment with a neurologist. Then regular appointments.

“He didn’t remember anything after the first attack. I was imagining it wouldn’t be so bad,” Espinosa said. “I don’t know how to respond, I don’t know how to deal with epilepsy.”

Since the first seizure, Miguel has had two more. Espinosa said she gave up her housekeeping job where she made $800 every two weeks to continue caring for her son.

Without the initial rental assistance that covered both her and her husband’s absence from work, Espinosa said she wouldn’t have been able to quit her job in the long term.

“It’s difficult,” Espinosa said. “This is hard for the whole family. It’s changed our lives.”

Despite their challenges, Miguel graduated from high school — a dream realized for Espinosa and her husband to watch him get his diploma.

Since graduation, Espinosa said she spends most of her time caring for Miguel while her husband works 40 hours a week. Whenever Miguel falls and has another episode, she’s on the phone immediately calling 911.

Then Espinosa waits as patiently as she can until an ambulance arrives. She said she constantly worries for her son.

“He doesn’t remember anything after the attack,” Espinosa said.

But his future is looking up as he starts to get a handle on his diagnosis.

Miguel recently started a new job at a bakery near their home. He comes home for lunch every day and spends breaks with his mom.

Espinosa said she dreams that he will one day be able to go to college.

Sarah Ravani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: sravani@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @SarRavani

Read the full article at: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/I-couldn-t-pay-the-bills-Son-s-14879799.php

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