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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

One Health Crisis Away: Isac And Elizabeth Madrid's Story

Dane Walters
Elizabeth and Isac Madrid live in Rockwall with their 1-year-old son. They are struggling to make ends meet after Isac was diagnosed with a blood disorder and liver failure

The Madrids look like a lot of families in North Texas; a married couple in their 20s with a young child and a house in Rockwall.  Then a health emergency turned their world upside down.

The Madrids are the first family we’re profiling in KERA’s new series One Crisis Away. A third of North Texans don’t have enough savings to cover a three month financial disruption, which means folks like the Madrids are living on the edge.

As Isac and Elizabeth Madrid lob gentle, underhanded baseball pitches to smiling, curly-haired littleIsac, 1, they’re the picture of a happy family. You’d never guess what they’ve been through in the last 18 months.

Credit Courtney Collins / KERA News
Isac and Elizabeth's son turned a year old in June. Isac barely saw his boy during the first year of his life due to constant hospitalization.

“We’re in our 20s, with a home, with a son on the way. We were flying high. So the last thing I would have thought was, oh I’m getting sick,” Isac says.

But Isac did get sick, very sick. On the day little Isac was born, Dad started feeling ill. Three weeks later, he was in the hospital, and didn’t leave for months. His diagnosis? Erythropoietic Protoporphyria, EPP for short.

Isac’s case of EPP is severe and causes a blood deficiency as well as liver failure. He’s already gotten a liver transplant and had one unsuccessful bone marrow transplant. He’s scheduled for another later this month. Once a sturdy 210 pounds, Isac now weighs in the 140s. With a health crisis this serious, keeping his inside sales job wasn’t an option.

“My job tried to help me out as much as possible, but, they could only do so much, which I’ve very thankful for,” Isac says. “But, yeah, couldn’t work so, my side of the income came to just a stop.”

He’s on disability now, and it’s up to 26 year old Elizabeth to earn all the family’s income. One part of that is a 50 mile commute each morning to her administrative job in Plano.

“Before we were two incomes and now it’s just me and we get social security, but it’s not much. It’s not what he used to make before. And before everything started all of our bills depended on two incomes, and that’s how everything was planned,” says Elizabeth. “And we were fine.”

And when your earnings drop that much, Isac and Elizabeth say your entire outlook changes. Their mortgage payment is a constant, nagging worry. They keep the house lights low and regulate the thermostat fiercely. Even trips to the grocery store are nerve-wracking.

“It’s life changing because before you didn’t worry about small things, to now you’re worrying about every little single thing,” Elizabeth says. “Like a little, simple decision, now it’s a big deal.”

And a major illness means new expenses to fret over. The non-profit organization Rockwall County Helping Hands pays Dad and son’s COBRA bill.

And while Baylor’s drug assistance program helps with Isac’s monthly haul from the pharmacy, it doesn’t cover all 12 daily meds.

Isac, who was born in El Paso, and Elizabeth, from Monterrey, Mexico, are the definition of a family living one crisis away. Before he got sick, things were good. Two steady jobs, two cars, a house in the suburbs, a little bit of savings. But when EPP snuck up on him, everything changed.

Meet the Madrid family in this KERA News video:

What is EPP?

Erythropoietic Protoporphyria (EPP) causes extreme skin sensitivity to light that results in painful redness, swelling and itching. It can also lead to liver failure and impair gall bladder function. Learn more about the genetic mutations that cause EPP.

Rockwall County Helping Hands

The Rockwall County Helping Hands assistance and referral program provides residents in financial crisis with assistance for critical needs. Financial help is available for utility bills and housing payments. Staffers also operate a food pantry, thrift store and health clinic. Get connected.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.