Jennifer is the single mother of two teenage boys, Justin and Dorien. In 2009 she lost her job and decided to go back to school to finish her undergraduate degree in order to help better the lives of her two sons. In 2012 Jennifer moved to Nashville to pursue a Masters Degree at Vanderbilt University.
On April 30, 2013 13-year-old Dorien was struck by a train. He was admitted to Vanderbilt PICU that same evening. Miraculously, he survived and was transferred out of Vanderbilt to the rehab facility at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, GA on June 10th.
He was there for three months and in that time made tremendous progress. “They said he wouldn’t live, wouldn’t open his eyes, would be a vegetable, arranged palliative care for him, they basically said he would be in a coma. By the end of July, we gave the doctors back his wheelchair because he didn’t need it anymore,” Jennifer said. “He had his 14th birthday at Scottish Rite, which is a birthday we didn’t think he would ever have, and now he is going to have many, many more.”
The doctors at Scottish Rite strongly supported his transfer to the Neurological Behavioral Unit at Cumberland Hospital in Virginia. There is precedent of TennCare network coverage at Cumberland. However, a TennCare doctor reviewed his case and vetoed Dorien’s transfer for further rehabilitation treatment. His mother and his current rehab facility doctors had to fight Dorien’s insurance company weekly to even get him permission to stay in rehab one more week. She stated, “That’s what this world is about, we are supposed to help each other. You are not supposed to care more about a dollar sign than a child’s life.”
Dorien was transferred to a facility in Murfressboro that did not have the proper resources to accommodate him. After a few weeks there he fell, necessitating emergency brain surgery and setting him back in his recovery process. Dorien desperately needed to be at a facility that could provide him with adequate resources for his neurological therapy.
Jennifer reached out to the Tennessee Justice Center in order to get Dorien the rehab he needed. TJC helped her file an appeal for service denial and referred her to Legal Aid to get the resources necessary to fight Dorien’s case. After a tough battle, Dorien is now at the Timber Ridge Ranch in Benton, AR receiving the neurological rehabilitation he needs to recover.
Although Jennifer cannot afford to pay for a hotel to stay with Dorien throughout his treatment, she reached out to a local church whose members have graciously opened their homes for her to stay in Arkansas the first week of therapy and for her to visit occasionally. The church members have offered to spend time with Dorien when Jennifer cannot be there.
He still has difficulty speaking, having just undergone throat reconstruction surgery, and receives 24/7 care. Dorien is learning to use a cell phone to keep in touch with his friends and brother from out of state through text messages, with the hope that working on his written communication will eventually lead to improvements in his oral communication as well.
Thanks to the vigilance of his mother, Dorien is now receiving the therapy he needs. She said, “I dare them to deny him one more time. He’s finally getting neurobehavioral attention. He can now walk and do school work at a fourth grade level. 6 months ago he was in a wheelchair and today he can play basketball. You have to fight tooth and nail the whole way, you have to know what to fight for, what to ask for, and how to play the game.” TJC is thrilled to call Jennifer a Mother of the Year for her endless dedication to her son.
Jennifer is truly an inspiration, remarking, “I’m happy for other people to know that you can do this. If I can do this, you can do this. You don’t need to settle for what they say. No matter what you have to help your child get better.”
Photography by Abby Malone