A Phoenix woman is fighting to get health care for her husband, an undocumented immigrant who was in the process of obtaining legal status before he suffered brain damage while playing soccer.
Evelyn Saenz-Cornelio, 23, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that her husband, Jesus Armando Cornelio of Mexico, collapsed Sept. 19 while playing soccer at a park with his 13-year-old brother.
Saenz-Cornelio, who was born in Mexico but was raised in Phoenix and is now a U.S. citizen, said that doctors at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center told her that her husband's brain was without oxygen for about 13 minutes after he collapsed, causing severe brain damage.
She said Cornelio, a 23-year-old construction worker, had obtained an employment authorization card and a Social Security card from the U.S. government and had an appointment this week for a final interview to get a permanent resident card.
She said the hospital told her Friday that Corelio's health care bill was at $120,000 so far and that Arizona's Medicaid program wouldn't cover his health care costs, telling her that she would either have to take him to Mexico for treatment or put him in hospice care, which could mean death.
But Saenz-Cornelio said the hospital gave her husband a one-week extension Tuesday. After that, she said she isn't sure what she's going to do.
Spokespeople at Banner Good Samaritan released a statement saying that its staff is focused on Cornelio's care and could not comment further to protect Cornelio's privacy.
Monica Coury, a spokeswoman at Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Arizona's Medicaid program, said federal law prohibits undocumented immigrants from health care coverage. Even if Cornelio had obtained the permanent resident card he was seeking, an immigrant must be a legal permanent resident for five years to be covered, she said.
"They're federal rules, it's not a state issue," Coury said. "All this individual has is employment authorization and a Social Security number. That doesn't meet the requirement."
Saenz-Cornelio said doctors gave her little hope last week that her husband could recover but that over the weekend he made astonishing strides, including opening his eyes, squeezing family members' hands, yawning and coughing — all things he hadn't done since Sept. 19.
She said although Cornelio has not spoken, he is recognizing people in the room and responding to some of their prompting.
"I have to learn to be strong, and right now that's what I keep in my head: 'He wants you to be strong, to stay positive,'" she said. "I have to have faith that little by little, he's going to get better and show the doctors and nurses that he wants to be here."
She said Cornelio came to Phoenix when he was 10 years old in 1998, and that the two first met in the sixth grade. They began dating at 16 and were high school sweethearts.
They married at 22 and were trying to have children and get Cornelio legal status in the U.S. when he collapsed playing soccer.
She said Cornelio has played soccer all his life and had initially qualified for a scholarship to attend Phoenix College. But it turned out that he was ineligible because of a 2006 voter-approved Arizona law that says illegal immigrants can't get in-state tuition or financial aid funded by state coffers.
Saenz-Cornelio described Cornelio as always having a positive attitude and being incredibly responsible.
"He was like an adult stuck in a teenage body ever since I met him — his way of thinking, looking at life, his goals, his plans for himself and me," she said.
"He's my best friend, he's my husband," she added through tears. "He's my everything."
Lydia Guzman, an immigrant-rights advocate, said Cornelio's story shows the importance of solving some of the nation's toughest issues, including immigration and health care.
"This young man is stuck in the middle of all this turmoil," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.