Stuck in the body he broke, she exists in a world of seemingly few pleasures: Hearing her sister's voice each morning through her bedroom door; feeling her body lighten as a therapist swirls her in a swimming pool. But now, the Bloomingdale library rape victim could lose the little she has left. Since a highly publicized attack three Aprils ago damaged her brain and rendered her powerless over her body, the government has funded every aspect of her care, from the liquid meals her mother pours into her feeding tube to the home health aides who sit with her 24 hours a day, holding up her head, watching to ensure she doesn't choke. That will change on April 22, the day she turns 21.
As an adult in the eyes of the state, she will leave the care of Children's Medical Services. Her new adult Medicaid program won't cover everything. She will lose hours of home health aide services. Her family will have to pay for more medical supplies.
The state could take care of her daily living expenses — in a nursing home.
That's not home, her mother says. This is home: her pink room, decorated with photos and notes from her friends, within earshot of her mother and sister, who come in at all times of day to kiss and comfort her.
So her family scrambles to piecemeal her coverage, planning fundraisers and writing to state lawmakers hoping someone will come up with a creative solution — some type of waiver, some type of exception.
There is a better program — the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury program, which would cover much of what she gets now. She has been on the waiting list for two years.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, wrote letters to state officials including Gov. Rick Scott, urging them to look at the family's application.
"Allow her the dignity of care at home," Castor wrote.
In Scott's place, the Agency for Health Care Administration responded with a letter summarizing the young woman's case history. The family gave the Times a copy of the letter. It lists her slated service options with no hint of a change and says funding hasn't been available to add anyone on the waiting list to the program.
The governor did not respond to a request for comment.
State Sen. Ronda Storms, who has been working to cobble together resources ranging from home health aide hours to daily living supplies, says the young woman is third on the very long list. She qualifies for the program. It's just a matter of time.
Amid it all, the young woman is speechless, unable to blink in direct response to a yes-or-no question. It's unclear exactly what she understands.
But she seems to hear everything.
Often, she smiles, and her family interprets that as an affirmation of things that makes her happy: the Florida Gators, a friend's visit, a dip in the pool.
Lately, she has developed another form of expression. She opens her mouth so big, her family fears her jaw will lock. Her lips form the shape of an O. Her mother interprets that as "no."
Her mother takes it as a cue that she doesn't want to hear about something. It happens when her family stresses about her funding. And it happened one recent afternoon when talk turned to the young man at the root of it all, 19-year-old Kendrick Morris.
His sentencing is set for May 20, for the rapes of both this young woman and an elderly day care worker. He can't be sent to prison for life because of a recent Supreme Court decision declaring such terms unconstitutional for juveniles who committed a crime in which no one died.
During a ride in the family van, her mother began to talk about what she might say to him at his sentencing — that she forgives him, that she hopes he will one day find God, that she wants to walk up to him, shake his hand and place a cross around his neck as a reminder that there is still hope for his soul.
The young woman never wants to hear about the crime.
Her face grew long. Her eyes squinched. Her brow wrinkled.
Her mom stopped talking.
The van was silent as it carried them home.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354.