Zephryhills family wins fight to continue nursing care for daughter who nearly drowned

The governor calls to say insurance will be reinstated for their child's in-home care.

Published September 5 2013
Updated September 6 2013

ZEPHYRHILLS — The Tallahassee staffer told Yvonne Clanton to expect a phone call. It would be "good news" about her family's fight to keep round the clock, in-home nursing care for her 9-year-old daughter, who was severely brain damaged last year after her stroller plunged into the Erie Canal.

Shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday, the phone rang.

Clanton listened in shock as Gov. Rick Scott told her the family's battle was over. And the Clantons had won.

"Oh my gosh," the 47-year-old pastor's wife told a Tampa Bay Times reporter minutes after speaking to the governor. "My hands are sweating."

She said Scott thanked her family and said a waiver had been granted in the case of her daughter, Selah.

When Mrs. Clanton asked about the particulars, Scott said not to worry.

"He said, 'Believe me. It's whatever you asked for. You have been granted,' " she said.

The Clantons were seeking reinstatement of insurance coverage for a private nurse to care for Selah, who remains in a persistent vegetative state.

In July, Florida Blue told the family it would no longer pay for Selah's nurse, saying family members could perform the tasks. Selah requires tracheal and feeding tubes and must be turned every few hours to avoid bed sores.

The Clantons appealed, but the Division of State Group Insurance which oversees insurance for state employees upheld Florida Blue. Clanton and her husband, Jon, 49, a chaplain at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution, prepared to take the case further.

Selah, who spent much of her life in an orphanage in Ukraine and was developmentally delayed, is one of three children the couple adopted from overseas. They have two biological sons, Stephen, 17, and 9-year-old Samuel, who was born with a genetic disorder that causes blindness and other issues.

The entire family was in Rochester, N.Y., on Aug. 15, 2012, to seek eye surgery for then-5-year-old daughter Sarah, who is also visually impaired.

Jon strapped Samuel and Selah into a double stroller and took them for walk along the Erie Canal. For a second, Jon let go of the handle to check the time on his phone. The stroller rolled away and fell into the canal. Jon jumped into the 12-foot depths and tried to hold up the stroller as he clung to a tree branch.

Some nearby medical students rescued them. Samuel escaped serious injury, but Selah spent eight weeks in a coma before recovering to her current state.

After several months, she came home. A nurse stayed with her around the clock.

After the insurance appeal failed, the Clantons contacted state lawmakers. Former state Rep. Mike Fasano, who was recently appointed Pasco tax collector, sent emails urging his ex-colleagues to intervene.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, visited the family's home and appealed to Scott for help.

"I applaud Gov. Scott for directing his state agency to do the right thing and assist a family in need," Weatherford said in a statement Thursday.

Yvonne Clanton said she will sleep easier knowing that Selah will not be forced to rely on Medicaid for care. Reimbursement in Medicaid rates are typically low, making finding care difficult. As a result, some children end up in nursing homes.

Selah is now receiving treatments in a hyperbaric chamber.

On Wednesday, she stuck out her tongue, a move that might indicate she is getting more control of her mouth.

"I hope one day we don't need a nurse anymore," Clanton said.