Tim Steller: Friends rally as family's fortunes spiral downward

2013-07-19T00:00:00Z 2013-07-19T15:45:36Z Tim Steller: Friends rally as family's fortunes spiral downwardTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

You might not notice the stack of tiny leaflets on the counter at Lil' Traders, a store at 6216 E. Speedway that deals in children's goods, most of them secondhand.

The leaflets mention the struggles of the store's owner and her daughter. They refer readers to a fundraising website.

The owner herself? She can't be there, most of the time.

In her place is Katy Gierlach, who opens the store, takes in clothes as trades, runs the register and responds to inquiries about store owner Lynne Loranger and her daughter Emma. Since Emma was injured in a hard fall last year, during her first few weeks at Tanque Verde High School, the family's life, and the store's existence, have been turned upside down.

Katy is one of the many Tucsonans who have stepped in to help Loranger, but bad luck is outstripping their assistance in getting what Loranger wants most: Getting Emma back on her feet.

"I could not live without Katy," Loranger told me Tuesday. "She signed on to work 20 hours per week, and now she's carrying the whole store."

The difficulties really began with a miracle - back in 1997, Loranger gave birth nine weeks early. Emma weighed just 3 pounds and could be held in her mother's cupped hands. Oxygen supplements helped her survive, but they apparently were too ample and caused cerebral palsy, meaning Emma doesn't have much muscle control in her lower body.

At age 5, Emma received an experimental surgery that eventually got her on her feet. Insurance wouldn't cover it and it cost the family $200,000 out of pocket, Loranger said.

"She went from crawling and barely being able to take a few steps with a walker to, after a year of therapy, walking with canes," she said. "That was our first battle with an insurance company."

The next insurance rejection would prove more disappointing. In time, Loranger got Emma approved as disabled and covered by the Arizona Long Term Care System, the state Medicaid program for the disabled.

Emma was loaned a pair of WalkAides, strap-on electrical stimulators that help some people with nervous-system problems to walk, Loranger said.

"WalkAides we couldn't have. We had a trial for six weeks, then had to give them back," she said. "She walked independently with WalkAides."

Emma grew, turned into a teen, and entered high school at Tanque Verde last year, still using canes to walk. But while carrying a backpack full of books in the first couple of weeks of school, she fell and smashed her hip, throwing her pelvis and femur out of whack in the process.

After an argument with the insurance company over the details, Emma, now in a wheelchair, got surgery at University Medical Center Jan. 20, then was transferred to HealthSouth at Northwest Medical Center, where doctors said she needed 30 days of rehabilitation to get back on her feet with canes

"It was fantastic. They taught her how to get dressed, use the toilet, take a shower," Loranger said. "Then they come in on Day 7 and say the insurance company isn't going to pay for this anymore."

Loranger's understanding of the decision: "Because she has cerebral palsy, it wasn't going to improve her enough."

However, ALTCS, as the state system is called, offered therapy in Phoenix, where Lynne would have had to pay her own lodging, or two 50-minute sessions a week in Tucson.

A spokesman for Arizona's Medicaid system did not know enough of Emma's case to comment, but said as a rule is that there is not a limit on physical therapy for those under 19.

Angry and frustrated, Loranger brought her daughter home, taking advantage of the sessions but realizing they weren't getting Emma back on her feet. It's hard on the 15-year-old.

"You're dealing with a physical disability and teenage angst at the same time," Loranger said.

As the weeks passed, Loranger felt an increasingly strong pain in her own side, which she attributed to the physical work of helping Emma move.

That wasn't it: A few doctors' visits revealed this spring that Loranger, 48, had a cancerous tumor on her kidney - unusual for her age. Now she, the caregiver, needed surgery.

She got it in May but now barely has the energy to keep the family moving, let alone take care of her business, which is near Bookmans in the Monterey Village Shopping Center. Loranger's 12-year-old daughter, Kate, has had to bear with getting limited attention, she said.

Seeing the family crisis spin downward, Loranger's friend Mauretta Allan decided to do something. She set up a charity drive at GiveForward.com, a website intended to collect donations for people with medical bills.

"My main objective was just to get her some help. She's always been helping other people and not herself," Allan said.

The goal is to raise $48,000. That would pay for 23 days of additional rehabilitation for Emma, as well as a pair of WalkAides, and cover some of Loranger's unpaid bills. So far, the campaign has raised just over $2,000, and Allan and Loranger are overwhelmed by the generosity.

"I never wanted anybody's help, never asked for help, never asked for money. Getting to this point is humbling," Loranger said.

I can imagine it is - Loranger's a strong and independent woman. But bad luck could pick out any of us.

In those cases, especially when the policies don't cover us, we become each other's insurance.

To help out

Lynne Loranger's friend, Mauretta Allan, is raising money to cover rehabilitation for Loranger's daughter, Emma, and pay other medical expenses. To contribute, go to giveforward.com and search for Team Emma Lynne.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at 807-8427 or tsteller@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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