Crossroads family seeks help for infant's medical expenses

Six-month-old Emery Guerrero was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect in September. She will need open heart surgery to repair her heart.

A 6-month-old Crossroads infant is fighting for her life, struggling to overcome congestive heart failure, and her family is trying to raise money to pay for the baby’s mounting medical expenses.

Emery Guerrero was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect in September, after her mother Courtney Whitehead took Emery to the pediatrician. The pediatrician detected that Emery had a heart murmur and recommended Whitehead immediately take her daughter to the emergency room, said Whitehead’s cousin, Steffany Overstreet.

From there, doctors at the Citizens Medical Center emergency room recommended that Emery be moved via air ambulance to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi.

“I feel sad and deeply hurt to see my child going through suffering, and being unable to help her cope with the pain, nor able to find a solution to her suffering. Sometimes I wish that I can take over her sickness,” Whitehead said through an email.

“However, through the past few weeks, I have learned to be patient, and to endure the hurts that are within me. It cheers me up just to see a smile on her face, and to see that she is stable. For her, I continue to be the best mom I know how. She shows no weakness, nor will I.”

In addition to the heart defect, Emery has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She is also battling aggressive pneumonia in both of her lungs, Overstreet said. The baby will need open heart surgery to repair her heart, but her medical team is waiting to schedule the surgery until she is stronger and recovered from the pneumonia.

Since Whitehead and her daughter were first transported to Driscoll Children’s Hospital on Sept. 24, Emery has had to go to the hospital in Victoria several more times, as her body has struggled to fight off infection.

Because her condition is so serious, Emery and her mom have repeatedly been transferred via ambulance to either Driscoll or Texas Medical Center in Houston after every local hospital visit, Overstreet said.

Those life-saving visits to the hospital have also left the family with steep bills from the expensive ambulance rides to specialized care.

Now, to support her cousin, Overstreet is organizing a fundraiser to help offset Emery’s medical expenses while her parents wait for their daughter to be well enough for surgery.

Whitehead and Luis Guerrero, Emery’s father, live in Edna with Emery and her older 2-year-old sister Alyiah.

In her email, Whitehead also said her colleagues at Frost Insurance have been supportive since her daughter became sick.

Ventricular septal defects occur in infants when there is a hole in the wall that separates the two lower chambers of the heart, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state health department tracks and researches every birth defect that’s diagnosed in a child’s first year of life, so researchers and physicians can better understand the causes and trends in birth defects.

Mark Canfield, who leads the state’s Birth Defects Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, said that ventricular septal defects are among the most common heart defects diagnosed in infants.

“We have some amazing clinicians and facilities here in Texas that are really good at finding and treating birth defects,” Canfield said, noting that Driscoll, where Emery is being treated, is among the best regarded.

For the majority of birth defects, the cause is unknown, Canfield said, although for those birth defects where causes can be determined, it’s usually thought to be some combination of an infant’s genes and environment.

In 2016, there were more than 2,600 cases of ventricular septal defects tracked in Texas infants, according to state health data.

Overstreet said her family was grateful for any support the Crossroads community has been able to give the family.

“Anything helps, whether it’s a quarter or just a prayer,” she said.

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. She reports on insurance, the cost of health care, local hospitals, and more. Questions, tips, or ideas? Contact: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

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