“A sick child wiped out our savings.”

Before LAUSD Teacher’s Assistant Lizbeth Parra and her husband Mario learned that their son had leukemia, they had been saving for a house.

“My husband had a good union job for an air conditioning company,” says Lizbeth. “We had four boys and a girl, he made great money and we had decent credit. Plus that’s what you do, right? You get married, have kids and then buy a house.”

Mario, Jr., when he received his transplant.

The family also had health insurance through Mario’s union job. And it’s a good thing, too, because their son, Mario, Jr., was diagnosed with leukemia at age four in 2009. Even with health insurance, the hospital co-pays were $500 every time he was admitted. And for a while, that was happening every few days.

“We went through our savings really fast,” says Lizbeth. “We started using credit cards. We sold a car. Everything had to go.”

And then Mario got laid off.

Lizbeth tends to look on the bright side of things. Just after Mario lost his job, Junior had a relapse. Bright side: Junior’s little brother was a 100% match for the successful bone marrow transplant he had in 2011. Bright side: and even though job loss is devastating for a family, it allowed Mario to stay at the hospital with Junior for the three months of treatment and recovery.

The other bright side in Lizbeth’s life is her new career in Education. Raising children and dealing with Junior’s illness sort of put her career path on hold. But last year, she volunteered in her youngest’s Pre-K classroom. This year, that teacher lost her T.A. and invited Lizbeth to apply for the job.

“I found my career! I am loving working with children. I’ve gone back to school to pursue my education degree,” says Lizbeth.

Lizbeth and Mario went without any health coverage for themselves for a couple years. After Lizbeth had their last baby in 2011, she could tell something was wrong. But she ignored it. She couldn’t afford to check. Last year, she finally learned she had a large tumor that required surgery. Even with health insurance, the operation cost the family $4,000.

A healthy “Junior” on the right. His younger brother (and bone marrow donor) Abel on the left.

Mario and Lizbeth both have health insurance through their current employers. Lizbeth’s union, SEIU Local 99, just negotiated that benefit for Teacher’s Assistants in 2016. But neither of them can afford to cover their children. Luckily, they are able to keep the kids on Medi-Cal. Lizbeth worries what would happen if Congress cuts funding for healthcare.

“We see his oncologist and a series of other doctors throughout the year to watch for any damage the radiation and chemotherapy caused. He has vision and hearing loss and we have to watch his heart, liver, kidneys and other systems,” says Lizbeth.

Lizbeth and Mario just started feeling like things have sort of gotten back to normal. They talk again about saving for a house. They’re looking on the bright side.

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