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Texas hospital easing pressure on paralyzed illegal immigrant, family says

By Gustavo Valdes, CNN
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Thu October 27, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Galveston hospital wanted to send Francisco Martinez to Mexico for treatment
  • Martinez is partially paralyzed after a fall from a roof while working
  • The faith community in Galveston is working to find treatment for Martinez in the United States

(CNN) -- The family of an illegal immigrant paralyzed in a workplace accident says hospital officials have eased their pressure to send him back to Mexico because he is unable to pay for his care.

Francisco Martinez broke his neck in a fall from the roof of a shrimp packing business in Galveston, Texas, in August.

"He thought he was going to die" said Brandi Cullen Valderrama, Martinez's common-law wife. "He could not even breathe."

Martinez was taken to the University Of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he received life-saving treatment but remains paralyzed from the chest down.

Cullen Valderrama said he has limited use of his arms, with almost no strength in his hands. She said doctors have said he has a 1% chance of walking again.

A few weeks after the accident, she said, a hospital social worker told her she had to start planning to move Pancho, as she calls him, out of the hospital because they have no insurance or any other means to pay for treatment.

The worker offered to provide them with equipment for his care, including a bed and a wheelchair, Cullen Valderrama said. Later, when she told hospital officials she was about to loose their apartment because she could not pay the rent, they offered to pay for his plane ticket to Mexico, she said.

"This is a national issue and occurs most frequently in the Border States," the hospital said in a statement released after the case drew media attention. "Under state and federal laws, we are obligated to provide emergency treatment without regard to citizenship, legal status or ability to pay. There are no reimbursement provisions to the laws. Such a patient admitted to a hospital can be discharged, after he or she is stabilized, with a patient's consent or when the patient's condition requires a transfer to a facility better equipped to continue treatment."

Maria de Jesus Ramirez Padilla, a spokeswoman with the Mexican Consulate in Houston, said consular officials told Martinez's relatives the Mexican government is ready to assist with the transfer and would provide medical care through the public hospital system. But Ramirez said the family does not want him to leave the United States.

Joe Compian of the Gulf Coast Interfaith group, who is advocating for Martinez, said returning the patient to Mexico is not an option because Mexican hospitals are not capable of offering him proper care.

Martinez's wife and 7-month-old son are now living in a shelter. Compian said the faith community in Galveston is working to find Martinez a place where he can receive the care he needs in the United States.

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