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Jennifer Howell

For Jennifer Howell, taking care of her family is a full-time job. She and her husband Neil have four kids, and her days are a whirlwind of getting the three older children ready for school, trying to keep her three-year-old in check, and keeping the house in order.

The Howells have had their share of health issues: Neil’s first wife passed away from cancer, and Jennifer struggled through a high-risk pregnancy with their youngest daughter, Ruth. Then, in the in September 2015, Neil was in a motorcycle wreck that changed all their lives. He told Jennifer that he was fine, but she insisted he go to the hospital to get checked out. There, a full body scan revealed a potentially lethal hidden danger: a large mass on Neil’s right kidney.

Neil had had no symptoms that might be associated with the mass. “Had he not had that accident, we might not have found out until stage 4,” Jennifer said. The doctor told Neil to get a biopsy right away. If the mass was malignant, he’d need surgery as soon as possible.There was just one problem. Neil did not have health insurance.

Neil’s finances had been nearly wiped out by his first wife’s illness, and he’d given up his trucking business to work closer to home near his kids. His job paid barely too much for him to qualify for TennCare, and barely too little for him to qualify for help on the Health Insurance Marketplace. Without insurance, no doctors would perform Neil’s biopsy, let alone surgery. One doctor told him he probably had cancer, but said he couldn’t help until Neil had insurance.

“During that whole stressful time, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Jennifer said. “We couldn’t afford a hundred thousand dollars for surgery. We’d have to sell our house.”

Luckily, Jennifer called the Tennessee Justice Center for help. TJC helped Neil figure how much overtime he could work and be eligible for TennCare. They helped him apply and connected him with a doctor at Saint Thomas hospital who was willing to do the biopsy while Neil was waiting for the application to be processed. When the results came back that the mass was malignant, TJC worked with TennCare to get his application processed as quickly as possible.

Thanks to TJC’s and Jennifer’s fierce advocacy, Neil had surgery to remove his right kidney last November. His doctors say his chances of recovery are high.

Jennifer is grateful for the help TJC offered her family. Without TJC’s help, he might not have gotten the surgery until it was too late. “Truly, we would have been doing this a lot, lot longer had we not found you,” Jennifer said.

Now, Jennifer is looking into going back to work, and Neil is exploring jobs that offer health insurance. Soon, they hope, they’ll have better financial security and won’t need to rely on TennCare for health coverage. But they are grateful for the program was there when he needed it.

In the meantime, Jennifer relies on her faith and her family for support. “A lot of prayer has gone into this, from all over the place,” she said. “We just have to take it day by day.”

For Jennifer’s relentless advocacy and tireless dedication to her family, TJC is proud to honor her as Mother of the Year.

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