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Turning over tragedy

For almost half her life, Joy Stout has cared for her infant son, Andrew Proffitt.
Stout gave birth to Andrew when she was 19. A car accident that same year took her son’s eyesight and part of his brain capacity. It also took the lives of her husband and mother-in-law.
Stout’s legs were broken, and her body was battered — so much so that she wasn’t able to attend the funeral for her husband and mother-in-law.
Her focus immediately went to her son, who has remained mentally 6 months old since the accident in 1987.
“He’s been a baby all his life,” she said.
Stout struggled for years to care for Andrew at home. His inability to walk or take care of himself kept her busy. She attempted to hold down part-time jobs to bring in money, but Andrew’s continued health problems made things difficult.
Andrew had numerous surgeries for his disabilities, and he was constantly battling illnesses due to a low immune system.
Once old enough to go to school, Andrew spent much of his days lying on the floor or sitting in the corner. He was unable to walk, talk or feed himself.
Stout said she did all she could to place him in the right schools — including moving from her home in the Tennessee mountains to Lincolnton. She felt the school system here had more to offer her disabled child, but admits moving away from her friends and family was difficult.
Despite several attempts, Stout said she couldn’t get government aid. She had no medical insurance, and she brought credit cards to the limit paying for diapers and medications.
The mother and son moved into a small trailer. Stout spent days caring for her son and working. Most of her nights were spent in a Laundromat washing cloth diapers because she could no longer afford disposable ones.
Help finally came when Stout joined the Client Assistance Program, or CAP. A CAP representative helped Stout apply for Medicaid again, and she was approved.
Andrew was 12.
The CAP representative also encouraged Stout to file for bankruptcy for her debt and put Andrew in a facility. The dedicated mother did file for bankruptcy but wasn’t sold on the idea of being separated from her child.
“As a mother you fight it every step of the way,” she said.
Her fight ended one night four years ago when Andrew got sick. Because of his size and dependability, Stout couldn’t get him to the car and struggled to get to the phone.
That night she realized she could no longer care for her son on her own.
“It was a safety issue,” she said. “I had to do it for his well-being.”
Stout’s CAP representative recommended a Residential Homes of America, or RHA, facility.
The only available facilities in North Carolina are in Charlotte and New Bern, Stout said, but there were no openings in Charlotte. Though the separation was almost unbearable, Stout felt New Bern was her only choice.
Andrew moved to New Bern four years ago. Improvements were almost immediate.
“They got him out of the wheelchair and into the walker,” Stout said. “He can almost feed himself.”
The 17-year-old no longer screams and cries when he gets his hair cut and has visited the ocean.
Stout feels moving her son across the state has been the best decision for both of them.
“I feel like I gave him a life instead of taking it away,” she said.
Since Andrew’s transition, Stout has gotten a full-time job at Lincoln Medical Center. She lives in a larger trailer in a quiet neighborhood and visits her son every three months. She speaks weekly with his caregivers and monitors his progress.
“I’m still devoted to him. I’m still a huge part of his life,” she said.
This year Andrew is 17. Stout has decided on a special present for her teen-age son. She wants to start a movement to maintain Medicaid benefits and facilities like RHAs.
Stout wants people to write government officials to fight for continued Medicaid coverage. She has read stories and heard news broadcasters speak about the possibility of cuts.
Stout wants everyone to join her crusade and speak for the disabled children and adults who need government assistance. She hopes her cause will serve as an ample present for her son.
“I wanted to do something for Andrew,” she said. “I can’t buy him a car. I can’t send him to college. I just want to keep him in a home where he’s cared for.”by Diane Turbyfill

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