By JEROD CLAPP
NEW WASHINGTON —
After coming home from preschool, Liberty Norman plays with her younger sister while her mom works around the house. She spends a little time with dad before he goes to his second-shift job, doing everything he can to keep the household afloat and give his girls a good Christmas.
Cassie and Mike Norman love their daughters, but their pocketbooks were hit hard in August when they learned Liberty has global developmental delay and central nervous system dysfunction.
At 4 years old, Liberty’s condition has put her mental development on track with that of a 2-year-old. With medical bills piling on and three loan modifications later, the family no longer qualifies for modifications because the amount of the loan exceeds the value of their modular home.
This year, Cassie and Mike are able to give Liberty and her sister, Annabelle, what they want for Christmas. But with thousands in medical expenses looming, the family still needs help with their finances.
“We haven’t even been able to start her treatment because of the medical expenses,” Cassie said. “We got the bill for… the place we got her evaluated at, and that bill alone was almost $1,000. That is after our insurance paid their portion.”
Preschool has helped Libby, though. Cassie said she’s able to speak in sentences and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” but she has a long way to go before she’s caught up with her peers.
“The maturity level she’s reached in the last year and a half has been amazing, but she’s still not where she needs to be,” Cassie said. “Right now, she should be identifying letters, she should be able to trace a line or trace her name when it’s written. She can’t do that because she doesn’t understand the language that you’re telling her to be able to do it.”
While the speech therapy at school has helped Liberty, the additional treatment she needs would cost the family another $100 a week.
Other diagnostics have cost the family a lot of money. Genetic tests on Liberty were paid 90 percent by their insurance, but a bill for $621 still hit the family hard.
Pediatricians also recommended the family get Annabelle, 21 months old, checked out, especially since she exhibits some of the same signs Liberty did at that age.
Insurance battles have also plagued the family. Because Liberty’s conditions are not considered congenital and she wasn’t diagnosed as autistic, they were initially told the speech and behavioral therapy weren’t covered.
But with help from their pediatrician, they learned they qualify for 24 speech therapy sessions a year, which will help Liberty catch up to her age group.
Cassie said they’ve applied for Medicaid and Social Security disability benefits. Although Liberty qualifies as disabled, the family makes too much money to get benefits.
Earning their keep
Mike is a steel fitter at Jeff Boat. He usually heads to work at about 2 p.m. to put beams together for barges. He said while he tries to get as much overtime as he can, he never really knows what his schedule looks like from week to week.
While he has opportunities for overtime, rain can keep him at home.
“That’s one of the reasons I took second shift, because the pay’s better,” Mike said. “I work as much as I can. There might be some weeks I work 55, 60 hours and there are some weeks I’m only working 20. It depends on the weather.”
While he’s away from home, Cassie said she babysits two children to make some extra money, even though she already has two kids of her own to keep an eye on. But she also said she hoped other children might help Liberty progress her development faster.
“I thought maybe by babysitting the other kids, that would give Libby a little more one-on-one interaction with children, but these are younger kids,” Cassie said. “So it’s not putting her up a level, it’s keeping her at their level.”
Cassie worked as a substitute teacher until June. After Liberty was diagnosed with her conditions a couple of months later, Cassie decided her efforts should be focused on her daughter’s well-being.
“I can’t go back to work until she’s back where she needs to be,” Cassie said. “Because if I go back to work, what’s to say she’s not going to fall back farther behind? And I can’t take that chance.”
But while she was working, the economy kept her in a revolving door of jobs. Not working while school was out of session was a problem and a temp agency led to layoff after layoff.
Cassie said socializing doesn’t really fit into the family’s schedule, either. Aside from her parents, who help watch the children a couple times a week, she said they stay at home a lot.
“We have one set of friends we talk to regularly,” Cassie said. “We don’t really get to go out, that’s not part of the routine. And weekends are mostly [Mike] being able to spend time with the girls and then that’s my break.”
Mike said he loves the time he gets to spend with his girls, even if it means he has to sacrifice sleeping in.
“It’s real difficult,” Mike said. “I want to spend as much time as I can with my kids, but when I spend time with them, it’s taking away from everything else like sleep. But you just kind of try to even things out.”
Elisabeth Cridlin, the family’s case manager with New Hope Services, said the Normans have been hesitant to ask for help since she started working with them. She said that was one of the reasons she tried to find ways to help them.
“They try however they can be self-sufficient,” Cridlin said. “Even though they need the help, they’d prefer to continue to give to their friends and their community. They want to do all the right things, they want to pay all their bills, they want to pay their mortgage on time.”
Cassie said she works with people in her community to help other families in need. While Cridlin told them she could find aid, Cassie said she would insist on giving back if they accepted help.
“She would say if we needed anything from the food pantry to let her know,” Cassie said. “But I said if that happens, I’m giving something back. It’s just not in our genetic makeup [to ask for help].”
But she said she also tries to give time to her friends and family, even if it’s just talking them through a difficult situation.
“We can’t give financially, but we give with our time,” Cassie said. “If you’ve ever talked to anybody and you feel like you’ve talked them out of doing something stupid or talked them into doing right, that’s what I mean by giving.”
She said a conversation with her mother helped her come to the conclusion that after trying to help others for so long, maybe it was time for her to accept a supporting hand.
Needs and wants
Cassie said any kinds of toys her girls can get to work their minds and hands at the same time would be wonderful, such as crafts or art supplies. She said sidewalk chalk works, but nothing a child can easily eat.
She also said toys they can use outdoors would be fun, especially since the girls like to run quite a bit.
The girls also like musical toys or CDs they can dance with.
The family also would like a file cabinet to keep track of their daughters’ medical records.
Liberty has outgrown her toddler bed and needs a twin size bed.
But other needs are important for the family, too. Money for medical bills and car maintenance top their list, but they also need a new washer and electric stove. She said toys aren’t the family’s main concern and clothes aren’t on their list either because family and friends have helped with that.
Those wishing to donate to the Normans should call Elisabeth Cridlin at New Hope Services at 812-280-2235.
HOW TO HELP WISH BOOK FAMILIES
• The News and Tribune and New Hope Services Inc. are again partnering to help families in need this holiday season.
The easiest way to give is a financial donation; our goal this year is $6,000 to help out a family in the area. Donations of money or items can be dropped off at New Hope, 1302 Wall St., Jeffersonville.
Call Angie Olson at 812-288-4304, extension 342 for more information. Look for two more stories on Wish Book families in the weekend edition.