Friends pay it forward to man battling Valley fever - Tucson News Now


Friends pay it forward to man battling Valley fever

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Kristina (right) and Krystal Sheppard-Eppinger. (Source: Family photo) Kristina (right) and Krystal Sheppard-Eppinger. (Source: Family photo)
Richie and Kristina (Source: Family photo) Richie and Kristina (Source: Family photo)
Kristina and Richie (Source: Family photo) Kristina and Richie (Source: Family photo)

A Valley family wanted to help a Phoenix couple battling serious health problems when suddenly their goodwill gesture gained urgent significance.

Just as the family was planning to Pay it Forward, the husband took a turn for the worse.

The twist made everyone involved realize how the goodwill gesture can seem so small and yet mean everything to a friend in need.

"Right now, I feel like I'm losing a brother," said Krystal Sheppard-Eppinger. "I'm losing one of my best friends. I think constantly about his voice, about what he sounded like."

This was not the way CBS 5 News planned to meet Sheppard-Eppinger and her mother, Michelle Santiago.

They contacted CBS 5 and wanted to Pay it Forward to Sheppard-Eppinger's childhood friend, Kristina Bermeo.

But on this day, television cameras or any monetary gift seemed so trivial.

"She's so young to be dealing with these things," said Santiago. "I'm old enough to be her mother and I've never dealt with the issues she's had to deal with, and I just look up to her because I don't know how I would handle this."

Bermeo's husband, Richie Bermeo, came down with Valley Fever in April, a condition that is usually survivable.

But he already has diabetes, and one by one, his organs are shutting down.

When CBS 5 News arrived to do the story, he had just been stabilized but doctors were telling family and friends that he may not make it through the hour, much less the night.

"I keep thinking in my head, 'Snap out of it. I miss you. I want to see you. I want to hear your laugh, I want to hear you joke around with us' because he picks on all of us," Sheppard-Eppinger said.

The Bermeos had already been through so much. Two years ago, their daughter, Lexi, was born severely premature. Doctors said she would only live a few hours.

"She looks like an angel, she is an angel," Santiago said. "She is just a miracle before my eyes. She's a miracle for all of us and we share her story. Because it is so amazing and it gives hope."

But Lexi, too, has a hard road ahead. She's deaf and has cerebral palsy. Kristina Bermeo quit work to take care of her. She relied on Richie Bermeo to be the sole breadwinner.

And then he got sick.

People wishing to help the family with medical expenses can donate to an account set up in Richie Bermeo's name at Wells Fargo Bank.

"To know that we can take more of that stress off of Kristina so that she can just be with her husband right now, be with her children, that's a blessing and I know that's what they need," said Sheppard-Eppinger.

His family has set up a web page for him.

There is also a car wash planned for Saturday at the Title Bucks at 44th Street and Thomas Road.

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. 

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