Medicaid Matters Mondays: Samantha Gets Ready for School

Every Monday for the rest of the year, Speak Now for Kids is celebrating Medicaid Matters for Kids Mondays with posts highlighting the importance of Medicaid in children’s access to health care. This week we revisit Samantha Gaither who, along with her sister Sophia, represented Arkansas Children's Hospital at the 2015 Speak Now for Kids' Family Advocacy Day.

Samantha_and_Sophie_Gaither.jpgFrom NICU bassinet to kindergarten classroom—that transition can seem like an eternity to a new parent of a child with a congenital heart defect, but it’s happened seemingly overnight, said Amie Gaither, mother to twins Samantha and Sophia, 4.

The girls had twin-twin transfusion syndrome while Gaither was pregnant. Samantha was born with serious heart anomalies and spent three months in the NICU at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Samantha was only 4-days-old when she had her first procedure and a heart surgery less than a month after that. She faced a second heart surgery at 6 months. Her anatomy is rare. While heart specialists see a fair share of children born with a single ventricle, Samantha basically has a ventricle-and-a-half.

Today both girls are healthy, but require speech therapy. The Gaithers know Samantha will need more surgery in the future, but aren’t sure when.

The family’s experience underscores why Medicaid is so important. Both girls were on Medicaid early on through the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) of 1982, a federal law allowing states to make Medicaid available to certain children with disabilities without counting their parent’s income. As the girls grew older, they were able to move to private insurance. Gaither, a social worker at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, knows the importance of the program to many families she’s worked with and became an even bigger proponent after her seeing how Medicaid helped her daughters.

“There is no question that we would still face daunting financial challenges if TEFRA hadn’t been there for our girls,” Gaither said. “We may not have had access to therapies that helped get them on track.”

In addition to speech therapy, Samantha will soon undergo evaluations for physical therapy offered through her school district. She struggles with range of motion despite loving her dance and gymnastics classes in Little Rock.

The twins look forward to starting kindergarten in August—as long as they get to decide what they wear and how they’ll style their hair. Sophie adores red and sports a signature ponytail. Samantha requests blue bows and T-shirts, while always having her blonde curls down.

“That’s what is important to Samantha these days,” Gaither said. “She doesn’t even know she has a heart defect.”

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