-- The last time Vito Ziccardi saw his youngest son Marco in person, the 13-year-old seemed to have little wrong with him except a "swollen tongue."
"We didn’t know what that was all about," Ziccardi told ABC News, who said the eighth-grader went to multiple doctors over the summer, with no doctor able to find a cause.
Eventually, Marco, who is a Finnish citizen through his mother, went with his mother to Finland for further tests.
After arriving on Sept. 16, Marco was rushed the emergency room just six days later.
"[He] started choking and they rushed him to the hospital and was in ICU for a week under anesthesia and they intubated him. ... He’s being fed through his abdomen," said Ziccardi, of Montclair, New Jersey. "He’s been there ever since, we’re trying to get him home."
Ziccardi said his son's doctors now believe Marco's swollen tongue was the sign of an extremely serious motor-neuron disease and one that might require the teen to stay on a ventilator for the rest of his life.
"The only way we communicate is via text," Ziccardi explained. "I see each other [on Skype] He still has the use of his limbs, even though they’re in a weakened state. ... When he left he seemed fine except for the tongue."
In order to fly Marco home for the holidays, he will likely have to use a specialized airplane designed to transport patients for a cost of up to $200,000, Ziccardi said, noting that his health insurance will not cover the flight or the ambulance to transfer Marco home.
Ziccardi said he's hoping that he and Marco's doctors can arrange to have the teenager back in the U.S. by Christmas, so he can start seeing doctors at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Ziccardi said he and his older son haven't traveled to see Marco in Finland because Ziccardi wants to save money to move him back to the U.S. and to get him the treatment he needs.
"It would be nice," Ziccardi said of having his son back for the holidays. "In my work I travel. I have missed my fair amount of birthdays and holidays, [but] we have always been together for Christmas, always."
The Ziccardi family said they are currently raising funds online and receiving help from their local community to get Marco back to the U.S.