Eric Has Two Mothers
By Dee Thompson
I know how tough it can be to mother a special needs child, but I have a ton of financial and emotional support. How much harder must it be when you are a single mom new to America and you don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language, and have a baby and a child with Cerebral Palsy?
Last year I met a remarkable lady, Kathi Frankel. Her daughter was on the Lakeside High Tennis Team with my son Michael. Kathi and I started talking one day at a tennis tournament, and she told me about an African refugee family she helps, and their needs.
Kathi spoke with incredible passion. This African family is not merely a “project” to her, they are people who have changed her life. There is a real bond of love there. Kathi started a blog [named for her daughter Bea] that has a lot of great information about the family. Here is the story in Kathi’s own words:
“I first met the family at the children’s hospital where I saw a frightened mom with a baby tied on her back pushing a stroller. The boy was beautiful and revealed his neuromuscular impairment when he tried to shake my hand. His smile lit up the room and I was attached before I could take the next breath.”
Kathi is a physical therapist here in Atlanta, at Egleston Hospital. She specializes in working with children with cerebral palsy. Her husband is a doctor at Grady, a large urban hospital here. They have two daughters, one in high school and one in college.
Kathi’s face lights up when she talks about the African refugee family she helps.
“The refugee family is Nestorine, her 8-year-old son Eric, and Carol, her little girl who is 4 now. Nestorine cannot work because she has to care for Eric.”
I am the mother of two special needs adopted children, but I have never seen anyone as devoted to the needs of a handicapped child, as Kathy is to Eric. In caring for Eric and trying to get him the therapy and help he needs, she has also embraced his mother and little sister.
Kathi is like a second mom to Eric.
Kathi talks about Eric’s birthmom Nestorine, and her friendship, as a life-changing experience. Kathi says, “When I’m with her, there are some of the happiest moments I’ve ever had.” Nestorine had to be very strong and sometimes pushy to get her family out of the refugee camp. Only 1% of the refugees ever get to America.
After Nestorine arrived in America she gave birth to Carol, a little girl who is completely normal and delightful. Kathi – “Little sister Carol does a lot of caregiving – she feeds Eric, bathes him.“
When Kathi talks about 8 year old Eric, though, she is the most passionate. You or I might see a severely handicapped little boy, but Kathi’s vision of him is so filled with love and optimism, it’s beautiful to hear her speak about him.
“Eric has a lot of movement but not a lot of strength. He can’t walk on his own. He does crawl. He can feed himself by lying on the floor and scooping food into his mouth, or he has to be fed by someone else. The first time I ever saw it, I was appalled. Then I realized, he is brilliant, he is feeding himself. He will put small pieces of food on the floor and nudge it into his mouth. He doesn’t aspirate because he’s eating on his side. He’s always hungry. He is such a delight. He has an incredible sense of humor.”
Kathi has a young friend named Will and he made this moving video, Eric’s Magical Moment, about the family.
Kathi has devoted her life to helping this family, and getting Eric the support he needs to be as functional and happy as possible. She has given money, household items, and a lot of her time to them. She arranged for the family to spend some time in a local commune that helps refugees, in summer 2013. She also raises money and advocates for the family.
There is not enough support. Eric needs a caretaker, so mom Nestorine can work and support the family. She gets Medicaid and food stamps but the money simply doesn’t cover all the expenses. Kathi is unsure if Nestorine can even stay in the apartment where the family lives.
The most amazing thing about this story, to me, is that Kathi is absolutely devoted to this refugee family. She visits. She helps with school issues. She is totally invested. Although Jewish, Kathi supplies Christmas presents for the family. Her daughter Bea, although only a high schooler, helps Kathi. You can tell by Kathi’s accounts and the photos, and the updates on Kathi’s Facebook page, that this is not merely a charity project, this is a sheer labor of love.
Although Eric was born to a refugee mother, fleeing oppression and violence, he has an amazing and loving advocate in Kathi Frankel, who is very much like a mom to him. Kathi is there for him, and his mother and sister, like nobody else.
If you or someone you know wants to contact Kathi about contributions to the family, here’s the information: firstname.lastname@example.org and landline phone 404-315-1919.
About the Author
Dee Thompson lives in Atlanta and is a freelance writer. She currently writes blogs, books, essays, and the occasional poem. Dee holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee. She is the author of two books, Adopting Alesia and Jack’s New Family, and contributed an essay to the bestselling book The Divinity of Dogs. Dee also blogs at The Crab Chronicles, and her professional blog, The Write Rainmaker. Dee lives with her mother and her son and enjoys gardening, cooking, reading, and movies.