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Michele Fardan

Michele Fardan lived with her two adult daughters and two young grandchildren in Antioch, Tennessee. She and her daughters worked, but their jobs did not always offer health insurance. Access to health care was never easy, but it was especially challenging for Michele’s 37-year-old daughter Monika, who did not have children and was therefore ineligible for TennCare. Monika did not make enough money to pay for health insurance, even on the new Marketplace. Without any affordable option for health insurance, she was vulnerable to what happened next: a major medical disaster.

Last summer Monika broke her toe. She went to the ER, and doctors diagnosed the fracture and provided a cast and special boot. The healing did not proceed well. But without health insurance, and with mounting bills from the hospital visit, she was reluctant to seek help. She tried to tough it out on her own.

Eventually, however, she could no longer bear the pain. She went back to the hospital and was admitted almost immediately. She had developed clots in her foot that were impeding the healing. She was having trouble breathing. By the time doctors realized she had clots in her lungs, it was too late. Monika died in July at a local hospital.

Her family’s grief was consuming. They had lost a daughter, sister, and aunt. For many months, new medical bills arrived almost daily from the doctors and the hospital, further burdening the family. Still Michele remained strong. She was determined to keep her family well and together. Michele took her family to the St. Thomas Medical Mission last October, where members of the TJC staff helped her surviving daughter and two grandchildren enroll in TennCare.

Michele recently added a new role to her resume: she worked with TJC to become an articulate spokesperson for all 280,000 uninsured Tennesseans who would benefit from Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan. Fueled by her grief, she has learned to be comfortable in front of crowds, speaking with reporters and TV news crews, always in the service of those who— like her family— struggle with the vulnerability caused by lack of access to health care.

Last month a full time job opportunity turned up, and Michele jumped at the chance. She’ll be providing home care assistance for an individual with special needs. And by a small miracle, this job provides health insurance. Michele will have the security of health care coverage and the means to a healthy future—a future that will allow her to serve as matriarch of a family that has been down to a valley of terrible grief, and yet, with Michele’s love and guidance, is finding its way up again. TJC is honored to call Michele a Mother of the year for her endless commitment to her family, and all those uninsured throughout Tennessee.

Photography credit: Sally Bebawy

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