TJC is extremely honored to nominate Ms. Tymna Lee as one of our Mothers of the Year! Not only is Ms. Lee an incredible mother, but she is a fierce advocate for her son, Christopher “Buster” Garrard.
Ms. Lee came to us in 2021 on behalf of her son, Buster, who was at risk for being transferred from a specialized facility that provides residential care for folks with Prader-Willi Syndrome in Wisconsin. It was Tennessee’s intention to transfer Buster to a generic residential facility, that would not meet the high level of medical care and supervision that Buster needs. Buster was born with severe physical disabilities, causing his inability to move his head, arms, legs, and unable to even suckle a bottle. Not knowing the cause of these issues stumped the doctors which gave a dismal prognosis for Buster’s life. Doctors said that if he did live over one years old, he would not be able to walk or talk. It took three agonizing years of testing before Buster was finally diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome. Prader Willi is a genetic disorder affecting chromosome 15, resulting in muscle weakness, poor feeding, slow development, and extreme hunger in addition to mental deficits. Not all individuals who have Prader-Willi exhibit symptoms in the same way, and the way the diagnosis presents itself in people is highly individualized. When Buster was born, Ms. Lee wanted to give him the best quality of life possible.
Ms. Lee has been advocating for Buster ever since he was born, as she needed to fight to get Physical, Speech, and Occupational therapies because his muscles were so poor, and he could not even suck a bottle. The fight for appropriate care for Buster has continued all throughout his life, including special services during his school years and is still a battle today. Buster’s condition requires specialized care and specific structures and supports to ensure he is living the healthiest life with Prader-Willi syndrome. Prior to his current placement in Wisconsin, he was placed in 4 non Prader-Willi specific facilities that lacked the level of care and structure Buster needed, putting his life and the life of others in danger. These unspecified placements brought on severe outbursts of psychological behaviors, requiring emergency intervention. Buster had multiple placements in mental health facilities and even spent the night in the Davidson county jail to keep him and others safe from the ravages of Prader-Willi Syndrome. During all of this, Ms. Lee and Buster participated in Prader-Willi research through Vanderbilt. The information from these studies was forwarded to legislators and Tennessee’s governor, to show why being in an environment that provides the necessary structures and supports for Buster’s condition is the only way to keep Buster and the community safe. After years of advocating for her son, following a six month emergency mandatory stay in the Memphis Mental Health facility the state of Tennessee agreed to place Buster in a Prader-Willi specific facility in Wisconsin. Buster has been living here for the past 10 years and has truly grown and flourished.
At the facility in Wisconsin, everyone is diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome, which gives Buster a sense of community and belonging. Ms. Lee says that “Buster is living his best life”. She says that “Buster is always smiling and has an incredible love for life. He is in a good place right now where he can enjoy his life and be amongst others like him”. Buster has a quote he says all the time, “a country boy can survive”. He has a love for country music and rides his minibike during home visits! Buster is an incredible hugger and has the best smile. When he is home, he loves doing everything, even the little things, like drinking coffee with his dad or helping his mom with laundry.
Ms. Lee has lived in TN for 36 year, after moving from Houston, Texas. She is a mother to four wonderful children (Allycia & Buster and two bonus sons Jackson and Dakota) Ms. Lee is a grandmother to two beautiful grandaughters (Ellizabeth and Alayna) and two handsome grandsons (Jeremiah and J.J.),expecting a third grandson in June. She has an Australian Shepard named Duke in addition to many ducks and turkeys. She was a former Licensed Practical Nurse at Vanderbilt where she provided care to patients at a Rheumatology Specialty Clinic and Cardiology Clinic. In her free time, Ms. Lee values contributing to the community. She is a Co-Chair and Head of the Fundraising Committee with her church’s Women’s Ministry Group, and the Director of Children’s Church Services. She loves to sew, do crafts, and is currently working on items to sell for a Women’s Program. She says because of the Tennessee Justice Center (TJC), she does not feel alone in her fight anymore and has someone in her corner. TJC has given her a piece of mind and she knows that if anything ever happens to Buster, there are people in TN that will help. She believes that TN is a great state to live in with beautiful scenery and friendly people. Unfortunately, healthcare and services for adults with disabilities is lacking and TN must do better.
Ms. Lee is someone who goes above and beyond for her family, for the community, and is one of the strongest and most fierce advocates I know. She has inspired me through her fight and has taught me so much about how I can be a better advocate myself. I am honored to nominate Ms. Lee as one of our 2022 Mothers of the Year.
Photographs by John St. Clair