When 16-year-old Valeria Arraiz Ramos came home from school Wednesday, Jan. 4, her family knew there was something wrong.
Valeria was behaving differently, moving slowly and barely speaking. That night, she barely slept or ate.
The West Orange High School junior has now been at the AdventHealth for Children hospital for almost three weeks. Although she’s gone from critical condition to stable, her recovery process is slow and financially challenging for the family of five who came from Venezuela.
Valeria’s father, Carlos, said the family is at a loss for what to do.
“We are upset and frustrated, because we never thought we would be in a situation like this,” he said. “We are crying, nervous and desperate.”
Valeria didn’t go to school Thursday, Jan. 5; she wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t talk. She wasn’t even responding to single commands, so her parents took her to the emergency room.
There, doctors ran tests on Valeria’s blood and her urine, ran a meningitis encephalitis panel, and a computed tomography scan; and did an X-ray of her chest. The results all came back negative, and the only abnormality was the detection of a urinary tract infection.
Valeria was released from the hospital and went home that night, but her mental status didn’t improve.
The following day, Friday, Jan. 6, Valeria couldn’t recognize her family or even talk. She was rushed to the children’s hospital, where she remains.
Valeria doesn’t respond, talk or eat. She has a feeding tube. Doctors are still looking for answers and are running a battery of tests to figure out why Valeria is having these symptoms.
Although she is now stable and can walk, her recovery process is slow.
She is completing physical and speech therapy every day. She can hardly hold objects in her hands.
As of Friday, Jan. 20, Valeria also tested positive for COVID-19.
Valeria is the oldest daughter in a family of five. In addition to her father, Carlos, the family includes her mother, Leidys; sister Valeska, 15; and brother Vicente, 9.
The family fled from Venezuela and came to Florida in 2017 seeking political asylum.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Arraiz Ramoses are among more than 850,000 people who fled the country and are waiting to establish residency in the United States for the same reason.
The family does not have any relatives in the U.S. to support them emotionally or financially, and they are still working on mastering English.
Carlos Arraiz is a salesman in a furniture store in Orlando, while Leidys Ramos recently was hired by a local restaurant to work in the kitchen. Leidys Ramos was only on her second week at the job when Valeria got sick. Now, she has lost her job because of her time spent with her daughter in the hospital.
Although the family is facing a life-altering turn of events, the bills won’t stop coming.
The parents have two other younger children to feed and rent to pay.
A friend of the family, Renata Harris, launched a GoFundMe page for the family Sunday, Jan. 8. However, the family recently had to close the page and open a new one because they need the money that is already there.
Marisol Gerritsen, West Orange High School Spanish teacher, has been working with the family to offer support in any way possible.
She shared Valeria is one of her top students in her AP Spanish Literature & Culture class, as well as a studious and dedicated student.
Gerritsen visits Valeria when she can after work; she feels it is her duty as a teacher to help when someone is in real need.
“Valeria is a very good student,” Gerritsen said. “She’s sweet, very responsible, respectful and has a lot of friends at school that care about her. All the teachers love her. She is in my smallest class on period six. It is an advanced course at university level in high school. We are like family. We make coffee; I bring them food, cupcakes and cookies; and we read stories, poetry, drama and novels.”
West Orange High has given Gerritsen some food items and gift cards to take to the family over the last few weeks. Gerritsen also has brought flowers, chocolates and books, with the hope Valeria will be able to read.
“The West Orange High School PTSO is committed to helping this special Warrior family in their time of need,” the PTSO stated.
Valeria is part of the Spanish Honor Society at the school. She also loves modeling, dancing and baking.
She won Miss Latina Tampa 2020 in the pre-teen category and is known for her flavorful birthday cakes.
When asked to describe their daughter, Valeria’s parents said, “She is amazing, a good person, nice, respectful, beautiful, friendly and awesome.”