The Power of a CASA Bond: Carlos & Jo

Carlos and Jo in the hospital for his brain surgery in 2013.

What happens when a teenager with epilepsy and his CASA advocate make a powerful bond of trust?

Carlos, 17, was at work when he experienced a seizure and was rushed to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy and attempted to contact his guardian. Before the seizure, however, he had run away from home due to conflict with his stepfather. He had been staying with various friends, jumping from couch to couch.

“At the hospital, the doctors wouldn’t let me leave on my own because I was still considered underage. I tried calling my stepdad but I couldn’t get a hold of him. The doctors tried calling him, and after a few hours they gave up,” Carlos said.

Once doctors realized they were not going to be able to reach Carlos’ family, they made a call to Child Protective Services (CPS).

“I was completely freaked out,” Carlos said. “I thought I was never gonna get to see my family again.”

Carlos was later placed at a children’s shelter in Austin—where he would come to meet his CASA advocate, Jo. Apart from being his advocate, Jo had a special connection to Carlos: her two children have epilepsy. Jo took it upon herself to be Carlos’ medical advocate. Her experience caring for her own children made her the perfect person to ensure that Carlos was getting the treatment he needed and seeing an epileptologist, or a doctor who specializes in treating epilepsy.

As they navigated the medical system together, it soon became clear that health was not the only issue Carlos faced—he also needed support to become a United States citizen. Carlos was only 5 years old when his mother first brought him and his brother to the U.S. from Honduras. Carlos was a Dreamer, or part of the generation of young undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship under the DREAM Act.

“I used to have an older sister; she passed away when I was a little baby,” said Carlos. “That was part of the reason why my mom wanted to leave our country and come to the United States—because she didn’t want the same thing to happen to me and my brother.”

When they arrived in this country, after being detained by immigration authorities and placed in a detention facility, the family was released and allowed to remain in the United States.

While Carlos didn’t have another interaction with immigration authorities until trying to obtain his citizenship, his mother was not so lucky. When Carlos had his first seizure and ended up in the hospital, his mother was sitting in a deportation center waiting to be sent back to Honduras—making her impossible to contact.

Despite these difficult circumstances, Carlos had a team behind him making sure he was being taken care of. Susan, a CPS lawyer, and Janna, Carlos’ caseworker, worked with Jo to help Carlos through his medical and immigration issues.

Things got even more complex, however, when the epileptologist determined that Carlos was a candidate for brain surgery.

“I was happy and scared at the same time. I had never in my life had surgery. It freaked me out at first,” said Carlos. “I cannot lie. If it was not for Jo being there by my side the whole time I was at the hospital, and my caseworker and my CPS lawyer, I probably would not have gone through that surgery, and I probably would’ve regretted it to this day.”

In order to have the surgery, doctors had to pinpoint exactly what part of Carlos’ brain was causing his seizures. This meant a monitored week-long stay in the hospital, with Jo, Janna and Susan each taking shifts to observe Carlos and alert doctors if a seizure occurred. Carlos underwent surgery and since then has been seizure free. Eventually, doctors took him off anti-seizure medications and gave him a clean bill of health. After some time, he was able to return to high school and graduate.

Carlos aged out of foster care, and has remained an important part of Jo’s and her family’s life—they regularly spend the holidays together. Jo, Susan and Janna all worked to help Carlos receive his citizenship, and at the end of 2019, Carlos was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

Carlos with his caseworker Janna, his CASA advocate Jo and his attorney Susan on his citizenship day.

“Now that I have my citizenship I feel a lot more comfortable being able to go back to school full time and work, so I can actually apply for grants and stuff now that I can actually qualify for them,” he said.

Carlos, now 24, is a healthy adult who is applying to return to college in hopes of becoming a music producer.

“Music calms me down,” he said. “Music helped me out in many ways a lot of things couldn’t.”

When asked about his experience with CASA and Jo, he had this to say.

“Jo was the main person that always kept pushing me to follow my dreams and go to college. I never ever in my life ever considered that I would ever graduate high school nor start college,” said Carlos. “I feel like Jo had a big impact on that, because she always kept pushing me. Till this day, she still gets on me about school, believe it or not. She’s like a second mom to me, honestly.”