May, 2020 // 20 Years Celebrating Moms

“His eye is on the sparrow”

The first time I heard Shawn Caster sing, it was this powerful song of hope in the parish where she had grown up. I had adopted that parish after returning home from law school and meeting Shawn, my first real client. I am the luckiest lawyer on the face of the earth, I remember thinking as her sublime voice enveloped me.

In those days, Shawn was rushing her infant Julian to the hospital multiple times a week because his oxygen levels would drop unpredictably and he would turn blue. She and her mom were taking shifts caring for him 24 hours a day, even though all of his doctors said he needed home health care to keep him safe. Julian was born with many life-threatening disabilities and his doctors, not quite understanding the strength of the Caster family, told Shawn that she would be lucky if Julian lived to see his first birthday. Julian is 26 now. His faith, love, goodness, and kindness have changed this world in compelling ways.

His fierce mom ensured that his was the first administrative appeal for a denial of a doctor’s orders. There were 1.4 million enrollees in Tennessee’s Medicaid program at the time, but none of them could get a hearing when an HMO said no. We won the appeal and got the care the doctors ordered. Shawn joined other brave champions to push for a system in 1996 that would give doctors’ orders weight in this new managed care program, called TennCare. The case provided protection to millions of Tennesseans whose health care depended upon TennCare.

In 1998, Shawn joined 19 other moms, foster moms, and grandmothers to ask the court to approve a plan that would breathe life into the quality of care standards for all 700,000 TennCare children. That case and her testimony brighten the futures of generations of Tennesseans, many of whom are parents themselves now.

But that wasn’t enough. Shawn put herself through undergrad, then law school, commuting to Knoxville for an entire year so as not to disrupt Julian’s care, because she was determined to be a lawyer for other moms and kids. Although she could have worked anywhere, she spent 3 years at TJC as a lawyer and helped hundreds of individual families access the care their children needed to thrive. She was the first TJC Mother of the Year 20 years ago.

Today, the moms who call us, who trust us, who dream bold dreams for not just their kids, but all the kids in our state, continue to inspire us.  And so during this dark season when it feels like so much is out of our control, I am reminded of Shawn’s song from a quarter-century ago:

Why should I feel discouraged?

Why should the shadows come?

Why should my heart be lonely

and long for heaven and home?


Visit our Mother’s of the Year virtual wall and history here.