RANCHO VIEJO — Raising four spirited young boys is a difficult responsibility for any parent, but providing for their health and well-being has been even more difficult this year for Martha Gutierrez.

Edilberto Gutierrez, 6, sleeps in his bed as his home Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Rio Grande City. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

When her husband lost her job in April, the Gutierrez family lost their only source of income, leaving them to rely on his unemployment benefits to get by.

But the family’s struggle began long before COVID-19 and Gutierrez’s unemployment.

At just four months old, Martha’s youngest, 6-year-old Edilberto, began experiencing seizures.

When it began, Martha took him from one doctor to the next trying to figure out what was ailing her baby and how to stop it.

Years later, she still hasn’t gotten definitive answers, but a surgery performed last month has helped reduce the length of Edilberto’s seizures by several minutes.

During the surgery, doctors inserted a device inside Edilberto that somehow reduced the seizures. But if they don’t completely stop, the next step would be brain surgery, Martha explains tearfully, struggling to get the words out as she’s overcome with emotion.

On an early December afternoon, Edilberto sleeps on a bed in the living room, a feeding tube inserted into his stomach. At one point, Martha’s oldest son, Uriel, walks over and plants a kiss on his younger brother before skipping away to play on his mother’s phone.

The three older sons, 11, 9 and 7, have health needs of their own, according to their mother, who says they were diagnosed with ADHD and take medication for it.

But the boys appear carefree as they rush in and out of the living room as their mother tells their story.

The family lives in a small, mobile home in Rancho Viejo, an unincorporated area in Starr County between Roma and Rio Grande City.

They rarely leave their home anymore since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Martha says, especially because of Edilberto’s health.

Martha Gutierrez talks with her son Edilberto Gutierrez, 6, at her home Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Rio Grande City. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Aside from surgery, Edilberto also receives treatment through medication and therapy.

Most of those expenses have been covered by Medicaid, but they’ve struggled to get a hold of a chair on which Edilberto can sit comfortably without falling off.

He isn’t able to hold himself up, Martha explains, so he requires a chair that keeps him from sliding down. They haven’t been able to get one through Medicaid, and it’s not something they could afford on their own.

At one point, Martha wakes Edilberto from his nap and then lovingly teases him, telling him they have company.

He doesn’t speak but he understands, Martha says as she carries him in her arms.

Standing just a few feet away from shelves filled with medicine bottles, Martha says she worries about what will happen when her husband’s unemployment benefits run out, but remains hopeful for her family and that Edilberto’s seizures will eventually subside.

To donate to this family and others, call the United Way of South Texas at (956) 686-6331 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and inquire about contributing to the Spirit of Christmas campaign. Due to COVID-19, only monetary donations are being accepted for families in need.