Moms are superheroes. That’s undebatable. Lori Harrelson proves that. Lori and her husband, Chris, moved to Tennessee from Mississippi. She’s the oldest of 10 children. Coming from a big family, Lori has always wanted children of her own. After 21 years of marriage, they had their son, Elijah, and their daughter Arabella came a few years later. While Arabella is fun, independent, and a resilient fighter, Elijah is inquisitive, creative, and a great hugger. Lori noted that “Arabella calms him down and Elijah is protective of her. Because he remembers Arabella’s birth and open heart surgery a deep bond formed between them. In fact, the cardiologist mentioned Elijah would be the best medicine for Arabella after her surgery. And that has been true. As she has gotten stronger and stronger, she has played with him more and more.”
Lori does her best to ensure their complex healthcare needs don’t hinder them. Elijah has been diagnosed with autism and Arabella has been diagnosed with a congenital heart disease (CHD) and Noonan Syndrome. Lori says, “CHD is underfunded and not as well-known as other conditions.” Arabella has determination and fight in her. Lori believes the focus should be on loving our children and showing that the illness is part of the story but it doesn’t define them. Capturing the moments is a balance of privacy and celebrating progress. It can be quite difficult to take pictures of your child in their most vulnerable state but you want them to be celebrated by the progress they made. Lori stated, “You never know who she’ll influence when she grows up. My sister, Connie, had the same CHD as Arabella and she passed away at a young age. Yet, if there is one story I want Arabella to hear about Connie it is that she was able to show no fear, no shame, and no disappointment in wearing a beautiful dress. She embraced her body and that it gave her a wonderful life that still lives on. If Arabella feels in the least bit unattractive because of her scar, I would be willing to get one too in order to show that there is no shame is having a miraculous extraordinary perfected heart. I want Arabella to be like my sister. It shows that she, along with my sister, fought for life, overcame many obstacles, and is not limited by the world’s view of being normal. I tell Arabella and Elijah how beautiful and smart they are and if someone tells you different then you tell them to come see your momma.”
Currently, both children are enrolled in part B of Tennessee’s Katie Beckett program. Lori says, “If Arabella’s story can help other families feel like they have hope, I am willing to share it. Many families feel they are alone and don’t know there are more resources out there. Because we have been helped by so many people, especially the Tennessee Justice Center, you want to give back. We will always feel that the Tennessee Justice Center is a treasure.” The children have multiple providers and Lori keeps detailed notes and records of their medical history. Lori says, “The Tennessee Justice Center’s help and support was a tremendous blessing. There are no words to really express our gratitude for the hard work, dedication, and resilience they have to help families like ours.”
Being a mom has been “the greatest thing I could ever imagine. It is more wonderful than I would have ever thought. It brings out the good and the bad. We dreamed, struggled, and fought so hard to have children because of infertility and miscarriages. Since we had to wait, long for, and fight for them, we cherish them so much more. They are our miracles and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to help Elijah and Arabella. They’re our little hearts walking around. We want to keep them safe, and make sure they feel loved and cared for. We want them to know we’re their biggest advocates. They’re priceless” says Lori.
TJC is honored to have Lori Harrelson as a 2022 Mother of the Year. She believes, “You don’t realize how the healthcare needs of your children affect the whole family. It affects schedules, worries, and resources. When they’re healthy and thriving, you can breathe a little better. It is a much-needed fight and I’ll fight forever. All children deserve the best care. Despite all the red tape I’ve gone through with Katie Beckett, if there’s a possibility that Arabella will get services, it will all be worth it. There are things she will get to do that she previously wouldn’t have.” Lori is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to ensuring her children get the services they are entitled.
Photographs by Elizabeth Blackstone