Marsha, Darin and their three young boys were living a nightmare and barely surviving. Marsha was addicted to drugs and alcohol, but somehow managed to hold down her job. Her salary was the only reason they were able to stay afloat. Darin was an alcoholic and unable to keep a job, so he stayed home to care for their three sons, Jason, 3, Aiden, 18 months, and Jimmy, four months. Jimmy was not getting the nutrition he needed on a regular basis and only weighed nine pounds.
One night Marsha came home from work to find Jimmy crying uncontrollably. Darin was passed out in their bedroom drunk and couldn’t remember what had happened. After hours of trying to calm Jimmy, Marsha knew something was seriously wrong and took him to the emergency room.
For Lutheran Social Services, this was an issue about treating three little boys who desperately needed to help be whole again.
The diagnosis was grim. Jimmy had suffered a severe skull fracture and was life-flighted to a children’s hospital where it was discovered he had suffered two additional head injuries in the past. He was given little chance to live. Jimmy’s injuries were so severe that if he did survive, the doctors’ prognosis was that he would be blind and would never be able to walk.
Marsha and Darin were convicted of neglect and child abuse respectively and sentenced to jail. Jason and Aiden were placed in a foster home, and while not showing any physical injuries, it was clear they were suffering severe trauma and psychological issues. That’s when Sara Stallman, Vice President of Clinical Services at LSSND, was contacted. Initially, Sara met with Marsha and Darin while they were in jail. She also met with the foster parents, and had regular visits with Jason and Aiden to help resolve their issues.
While Jimmy remained in the hospital fighting or his life, a couple was approached about serving as foster parents for him if he survived. They were told that there would have to be additional surgeries and there was a real chance he may not live. After a great deal of discussion and prayer, the could decided to serve as Jimmy’s foster parents. Although, it was a four-and-a-half-hour drive from their home to the hospital, they made trips each week to comfort and bond with Jimmy.
After two months of lifesaving surgeries and special care, Jimmy went home with his new foster parents. But even at an early age had developed trust issues, not wanting to be out of his foster mother’s arms. Whenever she would lay him down, he would cry, causing concern that he may re-injure his head, which was still fragile from his surgeries. So, Sara worked with Jimmy and his foster mother on attachment therapies to help him develop trust with others.
Normally, when counseling services are needed for young children and the family doesn’t have the financial means to cover the costs, the North Dakota Medicaid program will help pay for some of the expenses. Unfortunately, when Jimmy was injured, the program didn’t reimburse mental health treatment for children younger than two. But for Sara and Lutheran Social Services, it wasn’t an issue of being paid, it was about treating three little boys who desperately needed help to be whole again. So, Sara sough no reimbursement for her services.
Today, over three years after Jimmy was rushed to the emergency room, life is much better for the boys.
Jimmy is a fighter and survived his additional surgeries. Defying all the grave prognoses, he not only walks, but runs and rides a modified bicycle. He attends preschool and although partially blind, he sees shapes, and when close enough, can recognize peoples’ faces. After Marsha and Darin gave up their parental rights, the boys were adopted by their foster parents. Because she had been such a big part of Jimmy’s healing process, Sara was invited to attend his adoption ceremony. The boys and their foster parents get together often so they can play and maintain a strong sibling connection. On holidays and birthdays, Marsha is able to visit with the boys and their foster parents. Sara continues to see the boys regularly.
In the last few years, Sara and other members of the Abound Counseling staff have treated other very young children suffering from mental health issues. After many visits and testimony at the ND legislative committee hearings, they were successful influencing change in the North Dakota Medicare requirements, ensuring that funds will be available for mental health services for children under the age of two. LSSND is a voice for the vulnerable.
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