JEFFERSON CITY — Each day the unexpected happens. Car accidents, injury and illness can take a once active and happy family member and leave them depending on others for their day-to-day needs.
In December 2007, Mark Hatcher, a robust college student and full-time worker, suffered from a brain aneurysm. Just days later, a cyst was found on his brain and, before it could be removed, swelling became so intense he had two seizures and stopped breathing.
"Due to a lack of oxygen he had two strokes and was left blind and in a coma," said Charlene Connor, Hatcher's mother and caregiver.
While making progress in therapy at Rusk Rehabilitation, Hatcher suffered another brain hemorrhage. Surgery found it was brain cancer that still requires close monitoring and chemotherapy.
Despite speech, occupational and physical therapies, Hatcher is still unable to speak or walk, but he is making progress in occupational therapy. Over the last several years, Connor and her husband, Bruce, have wondered how to care for Hatcher in their historic, centrally located home.
As they slowly felt their way through the maze of insurance appeals and medical requirements, shifts and changes, another family was placed in a similar situation. On Jan. 2, 2009, Margaret Romph was a passenger in a vehicle that was involved in a serious car accident.
The accident left Margaret, only 5, with severe spinal cord injuries. She is now home and adjusting to the demanding schedules of at-home and outpatient therapy while attending kindergarten. Physicians are still gathering information and paying close attention to research in hopes Margaret will walk again one day.
Both mothers, who met at therapy appointments, say the journey is one requiring perseverance and determination.
"You have to have faith," Sherline Romph said. While it is a natural instinct to want to take care of your own child, both women said you have to ask for help. "The hardest part is asking for help," Connor said. "But you can't be afraid to ask people to help you."
Noting their home was not conducive to Hatcher's needs, Connor mentioned needing a room for Hatcher to have his own space without requiring her to shift furniture and medical supplies each time he needed something.
"The community really came together to get Mark what he needed so badly," Connor said.
The new room features a bathroom, laundry area and plenty of space for Hatcher's needed supplies. It also provides a place for Charlene or Bruce to stay with him to make care through the night easier.
The Romph family was the type to help others, but Romph said there comes a point when you have to ask for help for yourself.
"You have to realize that people want to help, and you cannot do everything yourself no matter how hard you try," she said.
Mothers, by nature, want to care for their children, and while the mothers admit they have learned scores of medical information, both say you must also take care of yourself.
"I quit taking care of me and focused on Margaret and what I could do for the rest of my family at the same time," Romph said. "You have to take care of yourself. You will not do anyone any good if you do not take care of you."
Connor said sometimes a simple break to go to the store or relax for a few hours does wonders.
"Sometimes, all it is, is having someone come and help you take care of them," she said.
Recognizing personal limits whether physical or emotional is key.
"You cannot allow yourself to be worn down," Romph said, admitting it is easier said than done.
One of the biggest battles, and toughest to navigate at times is with insurance companies.
Both women say they have learned priceless information.
"You can appeal a denial with your insurance company," Connor said. "Sometimes you have to fight."
Romph said it took three appeals before they were approved to receive an electrical-stimulation bike, a vital part of Margaret's in-home therapy.
The financial stress of accidents, injuries and illness on a family can be overwhelming, Romph said. Planning ahead is crucial.
"Saving is very important you never know what will happen and you need to have something to fall back on," she said.
Sharing your story offers a big relief, Romph said.
Not only did she find a source of relief to journal on a CaringBridge Web site for Margaret, Romph said it also allows for networking.
"By sharing our thoughts, feelings and the processes we went through, we have saved some other people the same steps," Romph said.
Connor added she has e-mailed parents across the country facing similar situations. "It helps you truly feel that there are others out there, and you find strength and friendship in talking with them or simply reading their page."
Romph also said at times, simply sharing their story helps provide them with things they need.
"Sometimes all you have to do is say you have a need and people will help you get it or point you to where you can get it from," she said. "You have to have faith that everything will work out."
While faith is a purely individual thing, both mothers have said faith is key.
"As my pastor said, you have to accept help with grace and you have to turn to your faith for strength," Romph said. "That has been my saving grace."