MOTHERS OF THE YEAR 2018
Danielle Alaimo is the last person to do anything halfway, and for that, she is being honored as a 2018 Tennessee Justice Center Mother of the Year. She gives her full heart and drive to every role and task she takes on. Her most critical role is serving as mother to Boston-Marie, 8, and Malcolm, 4.
Both her children have so much personality. Boston is fun and loving, and Malcolm has the most contagious smile. Danielle works her hardest to be there for both her kids every day, but this task is made unusually difficult by medical complexities that she and Malcolm each face with their health.
Malcolm was infected with cytomegalovirus before birth, which has caused a slew of health complications throughout his life. Danielle has devoted her life to being Malcolm’s full-time care provider and advocate. This has allowed Malcolm to achieve milestones never thought possible.
She balances full-time caregiver with being a mother to Boston- showing up at swim practice, asking her about her day every day, and making sure she always feels loved.
Danielle does her best to make sure Boston still has her mother despite Malcolm’s intensive care. Her own health has been an added obstacle. Just this February, she received brain surgery for a condition in which her brain was putting dangerous pressure on the brain stem.
Scar on the back of her head, Malcolm in tow, Danielle continues advocating for better care for her family and those like hers, simply because she feels it’s her purpose. An exceptionally selfless person, Danielle is unlike many people you will meet–and once meeting them, you will never forget her family.
Sheila Hobbs and her husband Dave adopted Jase in 2016. Jase has significant health needs, and in April 2017, he was admitted to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital for surgery. After a few weeks, he was ready to go home. His doctors said he needed home nursing care to stay safe and healthy, but unfortunately their family’s insurance did not cover it. At $20,000 a month, paying for the care on their own was out of the question.
For almost five months, Ms. Hobbs searched tirelessly for a solution for her son–waiting on hold for hours with different agencies, coordinating hospital staff, and supporting Jase while he was stuck far from home. Many would have been tempted to give up, but Sheila kept going. Through a social worker, Ms. Hobbs got in touch with the Tennessee Justice Center, and a few weeks later, Jase was approved for a special category of TennCare. At last, Ms. Hobbs and TJC found the obscure answer that brought her baby home.
TJC honors Sheila as a Mother of the Year for her amazing work advocating for her son. She is a model of persistence and love. She has also worked with TJC to share her story so that other families in similar situations will be able to find help and not feel so alone in the process.
Rosemarie “Rosie” Roan is lives in Murfreesboro with her husband, Robert, their two daughters, Ally (21) and Anna (16), along with their two dogs, cat, fish and bearded dragon lizard. Rosie’s oldest daughter, Ally, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a newborn and requires 24/7 skilled care every day. Adequate care services are crucial to Ally’s survival.
Rosie is the picture of devotion to her daughter. She is often up in the middle of the night taking care of Ally, providing both skilled and non-skilled care for her daughter. Rosie remained by Ally’s side for approximately 45 consecutive days while Ally was hospitalized–she even slept in the hospital room.
Rosie not only cares for Ally each time there is a missed nursing shift or hospitalization, but also cares for other individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in her community. Rosie works for Possibility Place in Murfreesboro, “an educational center-based and community-based day program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities where everyone is valued, accepted, encouraged, and shown the love of Christ.” At Possibility Place, Rosie teaches individuals math skills as well as a variety of other therapies. She provides these services for both private paying individuals as well as those enrolled in TennCare’s ECF CHOICES program, the same program in which her daughter Ally is enrolled.
Rosie is constantly caring for others with an ever-sunny disposition and positive outlook that never seem to fade. Tennessee Justice Center is proud to honor Rosemarie (“Rosie”) Roan as a 2018 Mother of the Year.
It is her caring, consideration and action for not only her own son but others like him that have inspired Tennessee Justice Center to name Patricia Shells as a 2018 Mother of the Year.
Patricia, a breast cancer survivor, has cared for her 28-year-old son, Patrick, his entire life. Patricia lovingly describes Patrick as her “handsome doll-like grown son that God gave me to take care of and I try to do my best. I bathe him, dress him…and provide for all of his needs.” Patricia is ALWAYS so positive and full of joy. While Patricia’s husband is working to provide for the family, Patricia’s day is packed with caring for Patrick, including taking him on outings, to parks, and to various programs. TennCare’s assistance makes this care possible.
Recently, during redetermination, Patrick lost his TennCare because he was not properly screened for his Disabled Adult Child status. Patricia contacted TennCare and did everything she was told to do–to no avail. One day, Patricia was speaking with another mother at Metro Parks Disabilities Program about the difficulty she was having recovering Patrick’s TennCare. The mother suggested Patricia contact Tennessee Justice Center. Through documentation, appeals, and a letter sent to the TennCare General Counsel, TJC was able to get TennCare’s assistance restored–just as Patricia was down to her last diaper for Patrick.
Patricia is in the process of establishing a nonprofit, Patrick’s Patchwork Plaze, for individuals with needs like her son. She is striving to create a place where Patrick and his friends can gather, enjoy each other’s company, and relax. Patricia also wants to create a space for the parents and caregivers of Patrick’s friends to spend time with one another. She envisions a beautiful Hope garden and a long porch with rocking chairs for this space. Patricia is currently running a GoFundMe called “A Bus for Us” to fundraise for a bus so Patrick and his friends can be more easily transported to outings.
For her fortitude through astounding challenges and her advocacy for families throughout Tennessee, Tennesse Justice Center honors Kerry Reed as a 2018 Mother of the Year.
Kerry Reed had been in the midst of personal and professional success when disaster struck. She’d established tenure at a local organization that provided the means for her to adopt three children as a single parent, then transitioned to building and running her own business from home in order to better meet her children’s needs. It was at that time–while Kerry was on private insurance–that their home was invaded by Lady Asian Beetles, provoking an extreme allergic reaction in Kerry that required months of steroid treatment. Her insurer dropped her for failing to disclose her allergy as a pre-existing condition despite the fact that Kerry had not known she was allergic. Other companies would not cover her.
Her financial struggles intensified when she caught double pneumonia, the uninsured treatments for which wiped out her savings. She began living paycheck-to-paycheck. A couple of years later, she was bitten by a brown recluse and developed a MRSA infection. Kerry went into debt to save her life because nobody would insure her. She eventually lost her family’s four-bedroom home to foreclosure because of her medical bills.
Kerry was finally able to get insurance in 2014 because of the Affordable Care Act. She wants everyone to know that, truly, two health events can cause a family to become nearly homeless. Her family is still struggling financially due to onset of rare diseases that affected Kerry in 2016. Thankfully, her family is now covered by Medicaid. She hopes that neighbors and politicians alike can see that regardless of background, people can develop drastic need in a short amount of time, and that health coverage and care needs to be for everyone.
“There is a lot that you don’t feel like you should fight for, for yourself, but it is completely different when it is for a child without a voice.” These are the words of Julie Whitacre, the devoted mother and fierce advocate of Ava Gray and Havyn Whitacre, two six-year-old twin girls who love dancing, dinosaurs, and Bruno Mars. Ava Gray was born with hydrocephalus, which left her with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. TennCare had provided Ava Gray with nurses to allow her to live at home with her family until last year when Julie was informed that TennCare was cutting their nursing hours below what Ava Gray needed to stay safe at home.
That is when Julie reached out to the Tennessee Justice Center, and our team helped find representation for Ava Gray to appeal their cut nursing hours. Jack Smith represented the Whitacres, and his skill and determination won them the appeal.
Fortunately, Julie has not been alone in this herculean effort of herding nurses, doctors and therapists for Ava Gray; planning class field trips, homework and lunches for Havyn; running her own business; and, navigating the complexities of TennCare. Kristina Pettigrew, Julie’s best friend, has shown unwavering dedication to Julie and her girls since day one. Kristina recalls holding Havyn in the hospital while Ava Gray was in the NICU and, at that moment, deciding to be a constant of stability, support, and love in their family.
Despite the stressors and challenges of raising a child with a complex medical condition, the Whitacre-Pettigrew team radiates levity, positivity, hospitality, and a hunger for life that is simply contagious. We are thrilled to honor both Julie and Kristina as 2018 Mothers of Year.
Jill Barlow of Lewisburg and her husband Eric are parents to Drake, age 6. Drake suffers multiple heart and throat defects requiring regular in-home care and medications. While Eric works tirelessly to support the family, Jill has juggled her own health needs with caring for her son and fighting determinedly to get adequate care for Drake.
Last year, Drake was close to losing the coverage that provides the means for his survival. Working with TJC, Jill and Eric fought to keep Drake at home and insured through TennCare so he can continue to get the care and coverage he requires.
Drake is now successfully covered through TennCare and receiving the care he needs. Jill and her husband are excited to be able to go on a date for the first time in years now that their son can be properly cared for! They intend for Drake to have as normal a life as possible. Drake is full of energy and happiness. He loves meeting people, watching sports, college mascots, and Kroger, which is one of his favorite places to visit!
Jill’s selflessness shows in not only her dedication to the care of her son, but her commitment to raising awareness about the inadequate healthcare policies in Tennessee. Both parents have been vocal about health care reform, fighting against legislation that could diminish the care received by their son and children like him. She hopes “senators and representatives realize TennCare should help everyone that needs support, especially children.” For her unwavering dedication to her family, TJC is honored to name Jill Barlow as a 2018 Mother of the Year.
Dana Beech has fought tirelessly for the 16 years of her son’s life. Because of her hard work advocating for his care, her son Chase has beaten all the odds. With an extensive list of conditions including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, dysautonomia, functional short gut, POTS, and more, there is always something that needs to be done.
Though this list is daunting, “Super Chase,” as he is appropriately called, pushes forward. Chase has one of those personalities that captivates folks and moves them. Dana says he can put a smile on anyone’s face, even when he is the one going through a difficult time. Despite her son’s strength, Dana still worries about the obstacles to come, especially as Chase gets older. Advocating for his care will only get more difficult, and that will make her job protecting her son even harder. But she shows no signs of stopping.
Within her community, Dana helps parents in situations like hers, advocating for children with complex medical needs. She wants to use her knowledge and all the lessons she has learned over the years to help others work through the system to similarly protect their kids. Dana feels her community deserves that support because they have taken on a role more difficult the most.
Dana is a fighter, just like her son, and will continue fighting until she sees justice for kids like Chase. If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that Team Chase is unmovable: no matter what obstacle arises, Chase will be supported through it all. For her advocacy for Chase and others like him, Tennessee Justice Center is honored to name Dana a 2018 Mother of the Year.
Sherry Garland’s fighting spirit in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds led her to the nomination for Mother of the Year. Sherry Garland is being recognized for her dedication and love for her sister, Becky Lee Rains.
Ms. Garland’s sister and TJC client Becky Lee Rains got into a car wreck with her husband on November 28, 2017. That wreck tragically left Ms. Rains quadriplegic and took her husband’s life. Immediately, Ms. Rains’ sister, Sherry Garland, came down from her home in Kentucky to help her sister. On top of the devastating physical and emotional impact of the wreck, Ms. Rains found herself in great need of medical care with no health insurance. She and her husband had previously received health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Market Place. When Becky’s premium rose to over $700 a month, they could no longer afford it.
Sherry and her sister, Ms. Rains, applied to TennCare’s CHOICES program seeking assistance for long-term care in the home, or a nursing home. They encountered many issues with the application process and sought assistance through Tennessee Justice Center. TJC was able to help the family fight through the red tape. Ms. Garland stated that the TJC staff, including CHOICES Client Advocate Katie Ann Twiggs, “made a difference in my life.” With TJC’s help, Ms. Rains was able to get approved for TennCare. She is currently receiving rehab care in a long-term care facility in Sparta, TN. Ms. Garland is optimistic that she will be able to go back to her Kentucky home soon. Ms. Rains is also planning to go to Kentucky where she will make a new home and, with the support of her sister, will continue to regain her strength.
Ms. Garland’s tireless fighting and refusal to cave under the pressures of bureaucracy for the sake of her sister demonstrate the selflessness and strength that we honor on Mother’s Day.
Brenda is a mother of five and served as the primary caregiver for her son Marvin until he went to college. When Marvin was 7, he was injured. The injury was so significant that he was put into the ICU and Brenda was told that her son might never speak again. However, Brenda refused to accept this fate, and told Marvin that if he could hear her to blink once. When Marvin was ready to leave the hospital three months later, his doctors suggested placing Marvin into a nursing home. Brenda responded that she would never leave her son and would care for him at home.
At age 11, Marvin was accepted into the Chicago Shriners Hospital, which is considered one of the best spinal cord injury hospitals. His mother stayed with him three days, and then had to fly back to Nashville to be with her other children. Marvin was upset by this, but Brenda made it a learning opportunity, telling Marvin that one day he would understand why she was doing this. Marvin credits the Shriners Hospital for teaching him life lessons he still uses today.
Marvin reveres his mother so highly that he nominated her as a Mother of the Year. Brenda’s “infectious spirit and personality” are most evident when she meets new people–she has never met a stranger and goes out of her way to say hi. Brenda is a fierce and loving mother, caring for Marvin every time he has medical needs. Marvin even describes his mother as “my biggest fan, telling me that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to”.
Meredith is a loving mother and wife. She fiercely advocated for the Affordable Care Act in 2017 to defend coverage that allows people who have preexisting conditions–as she does–to access adequate insurance.
Meredith has a genetic disorder called Ehlers- Danlos Syndrome or EDS. This disorder has led to many health complications, including a syndrome that causes Meredith to experience a heart rate spike to 200 beats per minute just from standing up, which often leads to her passing out. She’s also had to undergo many surgeries. She underwent brain surgery just weeks before showing up at a gathering to speak to the importance of the Affordable Care Act, proving she does not mess around when it comes to healthcare.
Along with her own health, Meredith advocates for that of her children. Despite the 50/50 chance of inheritance, all three of Meredith’s kids have EDS. Each has experienced different symptoms from this disorder: spontaneous, severe allergic reactions; frequent passing out; issues requiring surgical procedures. This disorder has presented itself in some very difficult ways for her children. Because Meredith’s kids can be on CoverKids, they’re able to get the care they need to try and live normal lives in spite of the condition.
Surgeries, heart issues, and a slew of medical complications don’t keep Meredith down–she makes it a priority to stand up for the coverage she and so many others need. Though she is too humble to say, Meredith is a superwoman, always finding ways to care for others, even when dealing with health concerns beyond what many could imagine. This level of commitment and compassion inspire us and moved Tennessee Justice Center to nominate her as a 2018 Mother of the Year.
Tennessee Justice Center is honoring Jeana Whitehead of Maryville as a Mother of the Year for her persistence and positivity in spite of the medical challenges that she and her daughter each face.
When Jeana’s daughter Nikki was born in 1995, Nikki’s father deserted the family. Jeana worked tirelessly in multiple jobs to provide for herself and Nikki, including providing for Nikki’s needs as a sufferer of social anxiety and other mental illnesses.
Jeana had been working as an Assistant Manager at Hancock Fabric Store when she experienced a series of health issues in quick succession that forced her to stop work. She rested, recovered, and once again found employment. In time, however, major pain issues forced her to quit her job, and a vicious cycle began. Whenever Jeana tried to provide for herself, medical issues would arise, limiting her capacity to work. Her daughter Nikki, now 22, has done what she can to help provide for their family by working, but has recently experienced medical conditions too extreme to allow her to work.
Jeana has been greatly assisted by SNAP (formerly food stamps) during her struggles, and has always been very grateful for the program. She wishes she never had to depend on the government for anything. Her food, her daughter, and her ability to take another breath of life have always been her sense of security. She hopes one day she will be free to live and make it without any help. But what matters now it that she is here, her 22 year old daughter is here (happily engaged), and the two together are still making it through good and bad times.
Samuel Holley suffers from severe Asthma and Eczema. The goal of his mother Kristin has always been for him to have an inspiring, encouraging, productive life.
Kristin found an effective medicine, Xolair, which lessens the severity of both the asthma and eczema. TennCare said that Samuel did not meet the criteria to have Xolair covered by insurance. Without coverage, Xolair can cost thousands of dollars a month. Kristin contacted the Tennessee Justice Center for help. This spring, with the help of Sam’s allergist and TJC’s advocates and attorneys, TennCare agreed to cover Sam’s Xolair treatment.
Kristin is one of many parents in Tennessee that struggle to get the health care and coverage their children need. Kristin is a strong, motivated mother who, after watching her own mother work in emergency rooms, hospitals, and clinics as a nurse, is now in school to become a nurse herself, working when she can while raising her two sons.
Just as Kristin’s mom is a role model for her, so too is Kristin a role model for Sam. Sam has become aware of the limitations that others around him face. Kristin tells a story of Sam approaching a young girl, who also had severe Eczema, at a baseball game. Sam did not know this girl, but nonetheless, spoke to her and encouraged her. Her son was so thoughtful and compassionate towards another kid facing the same challenge.
Before Kristin contacted TJC, she felt discouraged and did not know what to do or where to get help. It was TJC’s immediate concern and willingness to do what was necessary to help Sam that gave her hope. For her model caring and determination, TJC is honored to name Kristin a 2018 Mother of the Year.
Michelle Hayes of Union City is being honored as a 2018 Mother of the Year for her courage and tireless dedication to ensuring her son has the health coverage he needs.
Michelle and her husband Scottie, who’s served in the military for almost 20 years, have three wonderful children. Their son Hudson is one-of-a-kind, literally. Hudson is the only person in the world with a B3GAT3 genetic mutation, causing heart defects, spine issues, joint problems and others requiring surgery. Despite being in constant pain, Hudson hardly ever complains, and his teachers say he is one of the top in his class.
Due to the condition, Hudson requires Private Duty Nursing. The family’s insurance, TriCare, is provided through Scottie’s military service. However, TriCare does not cover Private Duty Nursing. Consequently, Hudson is enrolled in TennCare, which provides them peace-of-mind and access to the nursing care that Hudson needs. Given how hard it has been even for her middle class family to fight to get nursing services for her son, Michelle believes the health care system is seriously broken.
Michelle has been a tireless advocate for her son. Her goal is that he will be happy, pain free, and independent. Michelle says she is extremely blessed that God chose her to be Hudson’s mother because he has made her a better person and her relationship with God has become closer, and for that she will forever be grateful.
We are so honored to recognize Michelle as a Mother of the Year. When we told her, she said, “I feel I am not different than any other mother that loves their kids with all of their heart and will do whatever it takes to help them.”
Toni Corbin of Lebanon is being honored as a 2018 Mother of the Year by the Tennessee Justice Center (TJC) for her fierce commitment to making sure that her family, especially her son with a disability, has the health care they need.
Toni is a mother of two, with three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She lives with her son, Wallace, whom she calls “Wally.” In 2009, Wally was in a motorcycle accident that left him in a coma and with dangerous brain swelling. Over the next few years, against all the doctors’ predictions, Wally came out of the coma and began to build his strength. Today, Wally doesn’t let his wheelchair or his frequent seizures stop him from living a full life. Toni and Wally are devoted activists for the disability community, championing at every turn the medical cannabis movement. The highlight of their advocacy so far was being present when Governor Haslam signed a bill allowing CBD oil for medical use for people with seizures.
As a hepatitis C survivor also suffering from heart problems and severe arthritis, Toni has faced more than her fair share of health problems. Managing these health issues gets expensive, so Toni is on a TennCare program that helps people on Medicare cover their premiums and copays. Last summer, though, Toni was kicked off this program without any warning, even though she was still eligible. Not only did this take a huge chunk out of her Social Security check, but it also caused the costs of her doctor’s appointments and her prescriptions to skyrocket. Without her medications, Toni’s health was rapidly deteriorating. She called TJC, and the attorneys there were able to get Toni back on the program and get her reimbursed for all the costs she had incurred in the meantime.
In the future, Toni is more than likely going to need a liver transplant. But that doesn’t keep her from serving as the glue that holds her family together. Whether caring for her aging parents (her father is a Korean War Vet), occasionally keeping great-grandchildren, participating in Boy Scouts with her grandson with autism, serving as a full-time caregiver for Wally, or keeping up with Gimli, Frodo, and Chloe (the family dogs), it is clear Toni has an advanced degree in being a mom. TJC is proud to honor Toni as a 2018 Mother of the Year.