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Mower Co. Family Fights For Custody Of HIV-Positive Infant

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
At 15 years old, Liz Collin made her broadcast debut covering...
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BROWNSDALE, Minn. (WCCO) – A family’s fight to get their baby back has the attention of the medical community and the court system in Mower County.

Three-month-old Rico Martinez Nagel has HIV. Court documents say Mower County got involved after his parents missed a medical appointment. But to better understand this story, you need to read what happened more than 20 years ago.

“Look how much he’s changed,” Lindsey Nagel said as she flipped through pictures of her son.

At the home of any new baby, it doesn’t take long for the talk to turn in that direction. Only at the Nagels, in Brownsdale, Minn., little Rico isn’t able to hear any of it.

“It really hurts,” Lindsey Nagel said. “For two months he hasn’t been here.”

For the last six weeks, Lindsey Nagel and John Martinez have made the 45-minute drive to and from Rochester each day where Rico remains in a hospital room. Their son in the middle of a court fight centered around his care.

“It’s basically those kids had that child removed because of what Cheryl and I think,” Lindsey’s father Steve Nagel said.

Adopted from Romania as a baby years ago, Steve and Cheryl Nagel’s only child seemed to be healthy. Until tests in the United States would later deliver an HIV diagnosis and more terrible news, even if their daughter got on medication.

“He told us that Lindsey would only have a 20 percent chance to live to be two years old,” Cheryl, Lindsey’s mother said.

They immediately started her on a then-fairly new antiretroviral drug. The first government approved treatment for HIV. Month after month, they watched Lindsey struggle to eat, lose weight, and constantly cry out in pain until two years later, when they decided to stop.

“Even sooner than a few weeks, we had a normal child back again,” Steve said.

This past December, they were ready for life’s next chapter: welcoming a grandson into the world. Lindsey says after Rico’s birth, doctors and social workers told her he needed to get on the same medication she’d been on as a baby. After some initial resistance, the family agreed after they were told Rico would be taken from them if they didn’t comply.

After overcoming a few medical setbacks, Rico came home a month later where he stayed for just one week.

No one from Mower County would talk on camera but court documents suggest the problem centers around two cancelled doctor’s appointment and a trip out of state. Instead of going to what was supposed to be nutritional appointments, the Nagels admit they were planning to drive to Seattle to meet with another doctor to get a second opinion on Rico’s HIV diagnosis.

The family decided to turn around in North Dakota and head home. The county took the baby next day.

Within hours, Rico’s foster family had to take him to the emergency room when he wouldn’t take a bottle.

“This stack of papers right here is everything that’s been done to that little kid not since he was born but since the county took him and he was re-admitted,” Steve said as he picked up a large stack of papers.

“Those are things that didn’t need to be done,” John Martinez said.

John and Lindsey are now allowed to spend an unlimited amount of time with their son at the hospital even though they are still not his legal guardians.

A judge could decide on April 1 if Rico’s parents will regain custody of him. The family says the ordeal has cost them $50,000 so far.

You can follow Rico’s story online here.

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