SEBRING — At 2 months old, Ezekiel Garcia slept, yawned, fessed, smiled, cried and need diaper changes, but he had to eat through a feeding tube.
Now 4 years old, he still eats primarily through a feeding tube and takes multiple medications at all hours to try and control his daily convulsions, after a drunk driver hit his parents’ car before he was born.
A civil suit is about to start against 49-year-old Ricardo Espildora, who was convicted in March 2017 of DUI causing serious bodily injury, and two counts of DUI causing property and/or personal damage.
Ezekiel was born prematurely by emergency Cesarean section after his mother, Isamar Loraine Gonzalez, was severely injured. She healed from her injuries, for the most part. Ezekiel, in addition to having baby formula and water fed directly to his intestines, still suffers seizures every day.
He must take medication for those attacks through a tube directly into his stomach.
Magnetic resonance imaging of his brain does not show much activity, his mother said.
“His MRIs are worse since the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit],” Gonzalez said. “He cannot sit up.”
Ezekiel either lies down in the reclining wheelchair or in her arms, his mother said.
He doesn’t talk, she said.
“Doctors think he can see,” Gonzalez said, because he smiles.
He reacts to her voice, her mother’s voice and songs by his favorite singer, Andrea Bocelli, the opera singer.
Andres Oliveros, attorney for Gonzalez, said he’s seen her scroll through page after page of alerts on her phone: Dozens of daily reminders for every feeding, medication dose, appointment and adjustment she must make for Ezekiel.
“She looks like an air traffic controller,” Oliveros said. “That is a normal day.”
Gonzalez calls herself “a nurse without certification,” a phrase nurses in intensive care wards have given her after watching her care for her son on his many visits.
“They say I have to go into nursing,” Gonzalez said, and she admits it would be good if she could.
How does she get through it all? Ezekiel’s smile, she said.
“He smiles through everything,” Gonzalez said.
It doesn’t matter if its a 20-minute seizure.
“He just catches his breath, and he smiles,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what keeps me going.”
The civil trial is set to start today at the Highlands County Courthouse before Judge David Ward. Oliveros said Friday this isn’t really about money, but justice.
The wreck happened on Nov. 9, 2015. That night, Giovanny Gabriel Garcia-Vizcarrondo drove his wife to Highlands Regional Medical Center because she was having stomach pains.
The hospital told them that the baby was fine, and they headed home.
As they drove north on Sebring Parkway, returning to Bradbury Apartments, an oncoming car’s high-beam lights blinded them as they neared Youth Care Lane.
By the time he realized the truck was in his lane, Garcia made a last-second effort to swerve left, but the truck hit where his wife was sitting.
She remembers blacking out, sliding in and out of consciousness. She saw an ambulance and an anesthesiologist before waking up in Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando, her pelvis broken in three places.
Ezekiel was rushed to All Children’s Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Once his mother got well enough to move, she transferred to Bayfront Medical Center, across the street from him.
“I wasn’t awake when he was born,” Gonzalez said.
For a while, the young parents cared for the child together, but they eventually separated.
Highlands County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Espildora the night of the wreck. He was charged on Nov. 12, 2015, with driving under the influence — first offense — and two counts each of DUI with bodily injury and DUI with property damage.
At his arraignment on Jan. 14, 2016, he entered a plea of “not guilty.”
Later, the State Attorney’s Office dropped one count of DUI with serious bodily injury.
Espildora was found guilty by a jury in March 2017 and sentenced in June 2017 to 10 years in prison on his DUI case.
He doesn’t have any income and never had insurance to cover injury from a wreck.
When asked what she would like to come out of the civil suit, Gonzalez wants Espildora to heal.
“I just would want him to turn his life around, to have a full life transformation,” Gonzalez said, “I don’t hate him. I’m not angry. I would like him to truly change.”