TAMPA — The family of the teenager who suffered severe injuries after being raped outside a suburban library three months ago got news Wednesday that lightened their burden:
Medicaid will pay for her care at the rehabilitation center where she has been getting intensive therapy, at least until Aug. 15.
After that, doctors must provide Medicaid with weekly reports about her progress to determine if she can continue therapy there, her mother said.
"It is very good news," her mother said. "I can breathe easier until August 15, then I will have to take it a week at a time."
The teenager, who was assaulted as she was returning books in April, has been receiving state-of-the-art therapy at a rehabilitation facility in Sarasota since she was discharged from the hospital.
But she was not making sufficient progress at the $30,000-a-month facility, Medicaid determined recently, which put the funding in question, her mother said.
The family, whom the Times is not identifying because of the nature of the crime, is close to bankrupt and fears they won't be able to afford the best care for their daughter's recovery.
"She needs intensive therapy," her mother said in an interview this week in Vietnamese. "Not to languish in a nursing home." The Times is also not naming the rehab center to protect the victim's identity.
The 18-year-old is making progress and deserves the state's help, her doctor wrote in a letter to Medicaid last week. The doctor's letter of appeal to Medicaid, which the family shared with the Times, apparently worked.
It tells of her condition in excruciating detail — from her blindness and nearly completely dependent state to her ability to laugh at a joke.
Medicaid officials said Wednesday the case is not unusual.
Mary Kahn, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said she could not comment specifically about this case, but that Medicaid does require progress reports.
"The medical necessity (of further treatment) has to be established," Kahn said. "It's a constant tug-of-war between state Medicaid and the physician."
The teenager, who was weeks away from graduation from East Bay High School and had a full scholarship to the University of Florida, was attacked April 24 when she returned books the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library's after-hours drop box.
Amid caring for their daughter, the family has found hope, kindness and generosity from strangers.
So far, the community has contributed about $11,000 to a fund established for the teenager at SunTrust Bank, her mother said. Desperate, the mother had planned to take $7,000 of that money to pay the rehab facility to buy more time until a decision was made.
In the July 23 appeal to Medicaid, the doctor wrote that she had made "remarkable" progress.
When she was admitted to the rehab center June 16, she was "100% dependent for all her functional mobility skills," the doctor wrote.
She could not hold her head up on her own, could not swallow and basically could not move.
She can now put in about a 10 percent effort when rolled. And she can sometimes squeeze a hand when asked. She is expressing her emotions regularly, laughing at jokes and crying when she needs nursing care. She acknowledges her family and friends' voices by smiling. Her mother sleeps on a cot next to her daughter's bed.
Her doctor said that in order to meet her maximum potential, it is crucial that she gets help now.
"She is getting more responsive with great improvement," the doctor wrote in the letter. "The cessation of intensive physical, occupational, and speech language therapy will be detrimental to her future."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.