Happy Means Home
Most mothers have a common trait that bonds them to motherhood: they want the absolute best life has to offer for their children. At least that’s how Laurie Faulk feels about her son, Don.
Don has been Laurie’s pride and joy since he was born twelve years ago in Albany, Georgia. “He’s my miracle,” Laurie says. “I mean he changed me completely,” she adds. Laurie knows that she is unable to make Don’s life the best it can be because he is living in a nursing home. Don has lived at Brian Center Nursing Home in Jeffersonville, GA, for the past six years. Six long years that Laurie has wanted him home, living with her, having the opportunity to make every day the best for Don.
The holidays are dark times for Laurie’s family because Don is not able to spend all day celebrating. Her family has to take him back to the nursing home to sleep. Don’s past six birthdays have been heartbreaking because Laurie and Don have had to celebrate in the nursing home where Don is surrounded by people who are six and seven times his young age. Don spends his days lying in his bed or occasionally in a Geri chair positioned along the wall in the halls of the Brian Center. The social worker at the nursing home says a teacher comes for half an hour, once a week to work with Don.
“He would be so much happier and would learn so much more [at home],” Laurie’s sister, Penny, believes.
Fortunately, Laurie has excellent family support. Her mother, sister, and roommate visit Don frequently and have their own special remedies to keep him comfortable when they are there. Extended family— nieces, nephews, and cousins—also visit with Don and check in with Laurie. Laurie and her family have kept extensive records of all Don’s hospitalizations and incidents. They say they have unsettling photographs documenting neglect of Don and that his doctors have told them to take Don home.
During a recent hospitalization, Don’s physician instructed Laurie to take Don out of the nursing home, as he was severely dehydrated and had complications due to his feeding tube being pushed too far inside his stomach, she says. The physician told Laurie and her family that “no nursing home was good for a child.” Laurie and her family know methods of keeping Don’s tube area clean and clear and the specific creams to use on his irritated skin, which is caused by him lying in the same place day after day. They believe one hundred percent that Don would be healthier and happier living at home with them. He just doesn’t need to be in a nursing home anymore, Laurie’s mother, Jennifer, says. “It’s pitiful.”
Laurie says her doctors advised her at Don’s birth in 1993 to take him home and take care of him, that he would be a vegetable and would live to be ten years old. Don was born in a comatose state and had brain damage from a traumatic birth.
Laurie brought her baby son home from the hospital and gave him the best care she could: She loved him and spent time with him. She recalls doing therapy with him to strengthen his legs as she changed his diapers. She taught him to say words such as “mom,” “up, “good,” and “love.”
Don received early intervention services when he was young. Laurie took him from Albany, Georgia, to Columbus for therapy. When Don was four, the family moved to Cochran, Georgia, and a preschool teacher came to their home to work with him. The preschool teacher had Don touch different surfaces to stimulate him and read to him, as did Laurie. When Laurie and her husband divorced, and she and Don moved to Hawkinsville, Georgia, he was not receiving any services or school support. “I didn’t have money and all to get him places [for therapy],” she says.
I never went anywhere without that baby, Laurie says, “but then I messed up.” Laurie got into legal trouble when Don was six years old and asked her ex-husband to keep Don for awhile. Laurie found out Don had been placed at the Brian Center, “and that’s how I lost him,” Laurie explains. When Laurie was able to visit Don months later, she discovered that he had been taken from the nursing home to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Macon, GA. Don was being treated for an infection in his stomach. Laurie says Don had been in ICU for a while, but three days after she visited, he was discharged from the hospital and taken back to the Brian Center.
At the nursing home, Don’s room is the most brightly decorated with butterfly mobiles hanging from the ceiling, colorful pictures on the walls, and numerous stuffed animals for Don to cuddle. A fan is constantly blowing wind chimes, which Don loves to hear. There is a vacant bed in his room that the social worker says belonged to another young boy, who is no longer at the Brian Center. Don has a television and VCR his mother purchased, along with several Disney videos. The sign on his door is covered with teddy bears and says “The Baby’s Room.”
Don rarely spends time outside of his room at the nursing home, the social worker says. Laurie knows Don loves being outside, but does not get the opportunity to go out at the Brian Center. Laurie and her family take walks with Don when he visits them. Don also enjoys baths, Laurie says, but knows the nursing home bathes him in bed. Country music is his favorite, and he also likes to listen to his Veggie Tales videos. Laurie says Don tries to sing along.
When Don is able to leave the nursing home, they often go to Laurie’s mother’s home in Danville, GA, for family reunions and include Don in all the excitement. “He has to be in it [activities] too , everyone else is,” Laurie says.
Her mother, Jennifer, says she’ll have more than fifty family members visiting at one time. Her home is on land that has been in her family for decades, with plenty of room to ride go-carts and shoot fireworks, some favorite family activities. “He’s so excited when he comes home, he won’t even take a nap,” Laurie says. Don’s cousins entertain him and hug and kiss him when he is at his grandmother’s. His aunt, Penny, believes, “if Don could get around, he’d be a devilish little boy.”
Laurie and her roommate, Julie, drive Don to and from the Brian Center for the occasional visits, but want Don home living with them permanently. Julie feels he would improve significantly if he were living at home.
Laurie and her family have noticed Don regress during the years that he has been at the nursing home. She says she was most proud of Don when he said the words “love Mom.” She says it was the best feeling, knowing that he loved his mother.
“I’ve always been proud of him,” Laurie says. “He came from a coma to saying words.” Her family talks directly to Don and knows what his facial expressions mean. She says he used to communicate more with his eyes and expressions, but still on good days, he will say the words his mother taught him.
Laurie says she wants Don “to be at home where he belongs.” Jennifer claps her hands, cheering with excitement at the thought of bringing her grandson home to Laurie’s. “He’s one of our angels,” Jennifer says, and explains that he should be living with his mother.
Laurie wants to take Don back to Children’s Healthcare with doctors who work with children. Right now, he is being treated by a doctor at the Brian Center, she says. She wants him to start therapy again, and wants a school teacher to come to her home and work with Don.
Laurie knows she would need supports at home, but knows her roommate and family will help as much as possible in order to get Don out of the nursing home. Jennifer says now that her grandson is older and bigger, she does not believe she would be able to handle him as she did in the past. Laurie interrupts and tells her mother she wouldn’t leave Don with anyone anyway.
Jennifer’s concern is that “they pay all this to these sorry people in nursing homes, why can’t they help Laurie at home?”
Laurie says she can provide the best for Don, and all she wants is for him “to live the rest of his life happy,” she says. She knows how to make him happy.She knows happy means home.