Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Helped by 'angels' nationwide, a 3-year-old battles a rare disorder with no cure

RIVERVIEW

Maghann Ruiz chronicles her daughter's story with photos on the family blog.

Asleep in her child-sized hospital bed, 3-year-old Lila cuddles with her mom.

Sporting pigtails and a Hello Kitty shirt, a smiling Lila pulls her 18-month-old sister around in a wagon.

Sipping juice after surgery, Lila doesn't seem to notice the camera.

Toting a bucket filled to the top, Lila hunts Easter eggs with her dad.

In many ways, Lila Ruiz is a typical little girl. She loves to paint, wiggle and watch cartoons. She wears pink cowboy boots and collects temporary tattoos. She swims or goes for bike rides. She eats banana Popsicles.

But in her short life, Lila has undergone more than 30 surgeries.

While she appears healthy on the outside, what makes Lila different is on the inside, her mother says.

It's called megacystis microcolon intestinal hypoperistalsis syndrome. The rare condition, considered a smooth-muscle disorder, limits the functioning of Lila's bladder, kidneys and intestines. The toddler is one of 15 to 25 people living with the condition in the United States. She needs daily medical treatments and receives most of her care out of state.

"The hard part is we don't have a whole lot of answers for her," Maghann Ruiz says. "No one can tell her what next week will bring, much less what life will be like five years from now."

So far this year, the Ruiz family has spent only a few weeks at home. To date, they've taken nearly two dozen flights from Tampa to Children's Medical Center in Dallas and Cincinnati Children's Hospital, where surgeons skilled in treating the condition reside. Maghann Ruiz totals the family's out-of-pocket airfare costs at about $15,000.

Lila's dad, Peter Ruiz, owns Soundwaves, an auto-stereo business in Tampa. Maghann Ruiz left her career as a project manager to care for Lila. Even with medical insurance, the bills hurt.

After Lila was flown from one hospital to another last year, her parents received a bill for $130,000. They never asked for help.

Then came the "Angels."

Angels for Lila Ruiz started with Facebook. Lila's grandmother, Nancy Ruiz, launched the page in February as part of a fundraising campaign she and family friends led. The page links to the family blog, staystronglila.com, where people can make online donations.

The Angels also will stage a public fundraiser Saturday at the Winthrop Pole Barn.

"(Lila's parents) never complain," says Angels co-founder Will Martinez. "But I can definitely tell it's not easy on them. I wanted to do something to help."

Martinez said people nationwide have reached out to show support.

"I can't get over how wonderful people have been," he said. "People have donated over 4,000 frequent-flier miles to help the family with travel expenses."

For Saturday's event, Martinez lined up monster trucks, bounce houses, food vendors and live entertainment. He expects 500 or more people to attend, including Lila, who returned last week from Dallas, where she received some good news.

After being rushed to Children's Medical Center there for emergency surgery, Lila learned that a fistula, an abnormal connection between an organ and another structure, seen earlier in her abdomen was gone.

• • •

Lila is not a medical statistic, Maghann Ruiz says.

Most infants diagnosed with Lila's condition never see a first birthday. Generally, patients cannot digest food.

But Lila goes from the hospital to the playground. She says her favorite food is Thai chicken on a stick.

Lila is still too young to fully understand her diagnosis. At home, all her medical supplies are colorful and covered in stickers. She makes up nicknames for the equipment.

Sometimes she asks, "Did you have tubes when you were my age, Mommy?"

Though doctors say no cure exists for Lila's condition, her family remains positive. She likely will battle bowel and bladder problems her whole life. In years to come, however, she might need fewer surgeries or even go to school, Maghann Ruiz says.

For now, when people ask the Ruizes how they do it, they respond with a phrase that's posted on the family blog.

"We take it one day a time."

Lila is battling a kidney and urinary tract infection. On Sunday, the family plans to return to Dallas for treatment.

They hope to take pictures of Lila playing at her fundraiser before they go.

Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or swhitman@tampabay.com.

. fast facts

Family fundraiser

for Lila Ruiz

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

The Winthrop Pole Barn, 11349 Bloomingdale Ave., Riverview.

Call Sandy Martinez at

(813) 309-2395 or visit

staystronglila.com.

Helped by 'angels' nationwide, a 3-year-old battles a rare disorder with no cure 04/26/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 26, 2012 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Warehouse burns on Tampa's east side

    News

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County emergency crews are at the scene of a two-alarm fire at a warehouse near 56th Street and East Hillsborough Avenue.

    Hillsborough County firefighters battle a blaze Thursday night at a warehouse on Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa. [Hillsborough County Fire Rescue]
  2. 'Dream big' drives Lightning's Conacher brothers

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — Two words: Dream big.

    Cory Conacher includes them every time he signs an autograph for a young hockey fan.

    Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cory Conacher (89) on the ice during Lightning training camp in Brandon Friday morning (09/15/17).
  3. Irma roughs up endangered snail kites, birds that help us gauge the Everglades' health

    Wildlife

    Hurricane Irma was as rough on some wildlife as it was on the humans. Audubon of Florida reported Thursday that the storm destroyed all 44 nests around Lake Okeechobee built by the endangered Everglades snail kite, a bird considered crucial to the River of Grass ecosystem.

    Hurricane Irma destroyed 44 snail kite nests, capping off a poor mating season for the endangered species, which is seen as an important barometer of the health of the Florida Everglades. Their off-center beaks allow them to probe inside the spiral shells of the native apple snails. But the snails' population has dropped as the Everglades has changed. [MAC STONE | Audubon of Florida]
  4. New center opens in Tampa to help those with missing, damaged limbs

    Veterans

    TAMPA — Justin Lansford, his service dog Gabe by his side, smiled broadly Thursday as he imagined the future of a sprawling, resource center for people who need artificial limbs and those interested in helping them.

    Justin Lansford, 27, lost his left leg above the knee in Afghanistan. He was one of dozens of people attending the opening of the Veterans International Institute of Orthotics & Prosthetics in Tampa on Thursday. [HOWARD ALTMAN   |   Staff]
  5. Still worried about family, Tampa Bay Puerto Ricans ramp up relief effort

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — Brenda Irizarry is worried.

    Brenda Irizarry of Tampa, while agonizing over the status of family in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, is helping lead an effort to collect and send supplies to the island. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
]