Lelia Burke left her healthy, happy 3-month-old daughter in the care of her cousin when she went off to work the morning for June 12, 2013. A few hours later, she got an emergency call at work telling her that she needed to go to the hospital right away. Her baby girl was there and not breathing.
At the hospital she was told that her daughter had a skull fractures on both sides of her head and a hemorrhage in her brain. Devastated and completely overwhelmed, Ms. Burke passed out. Although she did not recognize the signs of abuse, the doctors did. Ms. Burkes’s cousin was found guilty of aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
In one day, Lelia’s life changed. She went from being the mother to two healthy girls, Nevaeh and Evianna, to emerging from that day forever haunted. Nevaeh, who was 2-years-old at the time, still has nightmares and has been diagnosed with PTSD and depression. Evianna, who is now 3-years-old, cannot eat by herself, walk, or talk. She has seizures, is blind, and suffers from other medical conditions resulting from her severe head trauma.
Evianna needs constant care in order to survive. Last summer, TennCare sent a letter to Lelia saying that they were going to reduce the amount of home health hours from 40 hours a week to 21 hours a week. Due to Evianna’s complex needs, Lelia knew 21 hours would not be enough to sustain her baby girl.
Lelia appealed and TennCare told her that they would have to hold a hearing to decide the matter. With the prospect of facing a lawyer, a doctor, and a judge to fight for the rights for her daughter, Lelia turned to TJC for support. TJC prepared a pro bono attorney to represent Evianna and together they worked to get Evianna the care she needed.
Lelia said, “TJC was right up there on the line with me. If I was going to fight this hard, then y’all were going to fight this hard too.” In the end, that hard work paid off. Evianna was given 40 hours of home nursing care a week – which is an even higher level of care than she had before.
At that time, Evianna could only sit up by herself for 15 seconds. With the care she is getting following TJC’s help, she is able to sit up for 3 minutes. She is starting to hold more objects and is able to use the left side of body more. She has gained 7 pounds in the last few months and is gaining vital communication skills. With the help of her nurse, she has even started going to school twice a week.
Lelia says “It can be challenging and stressful to be the parent of a special needs child, but once you see the progress that the child makes and the smiles, they could just wake up and they just light up your world. It’s a joy, it’s a blessing. This is what I was put on earth to do.”
Evianna loves being sung to and being held by her mom; nothing gives her more joy. Neveah loves being a big sister and taking care of Evianna, too. “I get my strength from, God of course, but also Evianna. If she can fight like this every day than I know I can. We’ve made it this far, were a team. My kids give me my joy.”
For her love and dedication to getting the specialized care her daughter needs, TJC is honored to call Lelia a Mother of the Year.