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Friends, family pray for hospitalized teen (w/video)

By BY ELENA WATTS - EWATTS@VICAD.COM
July 3, 2014 at 2:03 a.m.
Updated July 4, 2014 at 2:04 a.m.

Friends and family of 13-year-old Alyssa Conchola yell "Wake up Alyssa" as they release balloons in the parking lot of Stroman Middle School on Thursday. More than 50 people came to the gathering to send prayers and support to her.

To donate

To help the family, visit gofundme.com/aflbbg.

Signs and Symptoms

• Meningitis infections may show up in a person by a sudden onset of fever, headache and a stiff neck.

• It will often have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and confusion.

• The symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days, but they typically develop three to seven days after exposure.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Alyssa Conchola complained of an earache on a Friday night in late May. The next evening, a hospital helicopter transported the teenager from Victoria to a Corpus Christi hospital.

Alyssa, 13, remains in critical condition after doctors diagnosed her with meningococcal meningitis, a serious bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.

Bacterial meningitis is usually severe, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Thursday evening, dozens of Alyssa's family members and friends gathered in the parking lot of Stroman Middle School. They prayed aloud in a circle, released pink balloons, lit candles and prayed again in a huddle to protect their flames from the wind. Rain, thunder, lightning and a rainbow also arrived about 7 p.m.

"I miss her, and I tried everything I could for her to come home," said Crystal Salazar, 13, Alyssa's best friend.

Alyssa has big, round eyes and long legs, said Christine Garza Lopez, Crystal's mother. She is big-hearted and beautiful.

"She watches over her two younger sisters while her mother works, and she takes good care of them for a 13-year-old," Lopez said.

May 31, Cathy Gomez rushed her daughter to Citizens Medical Center. Alyssa's temperature had sky-rocketed to 106 degrees, and her body began convulsing.

The hospital transferred the teenager to Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi late that night.

Alyssa's mother and her older sister, Stephanie Gomez, 18, followed by car.

"Mom has been by Alyssa's side since day one," Stephanie Gomez said. "Mom is a single parent, and she's still here for all six of her children - I want to give big props to mom."

June 2, Crystal drove with her mother to Corpus Christi to see her best friend and to bring Stephanie back to Victoria. Stephanie, the oldest daughter, was needed at home to care for her younger siblings.

"We saw Alyssa, and she was sick and in pain," Lopez said. "But she could still talk, and she hugged us."

June 6 and 7, doctors operated on Alyssa to release fluid buildup around her brain, Cathy Gomez said.

"She came out of the surgery in a coma, and she never recovered," she said.

Crystal and her mother organized a June 21 bake sale to help raise money for Alyssa's mother, who had not worked since the end of May. Stephanie Gomez decorated pink T-shirts for the volunteers with "Wake Up Alyssa" written in glitter across the backs.

At the end of the day, they cleared most of four tables filled with baked goods in front of Wal-Mart. They tucked more than $700 into a Ziploc bag and delivered it to Alyssa's mother in Corpus Christi the next day.

This time, however, Alyssa was not awake. Lopez had warned her daughter that Alyssa would not be able sit up or talk to her. She had assured Crystal, though, that her best friend would feel her touch and hear her voice.

"She was scared," Lopez said about Crystal. "She turned around and hugged us and cried and cried."

More than three weeks later, doctors reduced Alyssa's life support to a minimum to gauge her response. They resumed full support when her lungs began to collapse.

Doctors told Cathy Gomez that her daughter would live the rest of her life brain dead, and she made the gut-wrenching decision to remove life support, Cathy Gomez said.

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, Alyssa began breathing on her own. Doctors gave her 24 to 48 more hours to live as of Thursday.

"We're praying for our little angel," said Freddy Morales, Alyssa's cousin. "She's touched a lot of lives, and so many people are supporting her."

Lopez started a "Wake Up Alyssa" page on gofundme.com that has raised $865 for the Gomez family so far. A message posted by Lopez on the page reads:

"By the miracle of God, she is still fighting! Please, everyone, help this family through this battle. ... Donate and continue to pray! From our hearts to Alyssa's heart and God's ears, we scream amen!"

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