BY SHATYRA R., USAA EMPLOYEE
For Tatum M., USAA business process owner, being a caregiver is about being a daily advocate for her children.
After being a strong lifeline for her now four-year-old daughter who was born with many birth defects including congenital diaphragmatic hernia, Tatum became very vocal with doctors when her son Ridge was born. She knew something wasn’t right.
“My mother’s gut told me something was off,” she says.
Tatum noticed that Ridge was very stiff very early on. She says his toes and hands were always curled and tucked.
“At one month old, you’ll hold him, and he was stiff as a board,” explains Tatum. “You couldn’t bend him at his hips to change his diaper.”
She was right and Ridge was subsequently diagnosed with torticollis.
Tatum continued to vocalize her concerns when things were not getting better. After continuously expressing her concerns, Ridge’s doctor agreed that it could be cerebral palsy.
“It was good to finally have someone listen to me and hear some of the concerns I had, but it was also sort of terrifying because you don’t want to be going through this,” she says.
Although all signs pointed to cerebral palsy, Ridge was too young for the diagnosis to be definitive. The doctors wanted to wait until he was a year old to do an MRI of his brain.
Tatum continued to take Ridge to treatments including physical therapy and occupational therapy. Then she started to notice he was doing abnormal things with his head and neck.
“He would tense up his neck and spasm his whole face uncontrollably,” says Tatum.
Through her research of cerebral palsy, she knew seizures were common, so she began recording the incidences. After showing the videos to the physical therapist, Tatum’s suspicions were supported, and she contacted a neurologist. The neurologist ordered an emergency MRI, which took three days to complete.
The MRI didn’t confirm anything, but the video evidence of the seizures was substantial enough to formally diagnose cerebral palsy.
With the diagnosis came the care Ridge needed. This care included physical therapy, occupational therapy, feeding therapy and speech therapy. He goes to therapy four times a week.
As a working mom with a full-time job and a caregiver for an infant with disabilities, Tatum
had to lean on others for help and support. A main source of support came from her team at USAA when she told them what was going on in her personal life. She said they have been her biggest supporters and cheerleaders during the most stressful times.
Tatum also joined USAA's employee group dedicated to promoting the full engagement of employees with disabilities. This group gave her the education she needed because she had no previous knowledge of caring for someone with significant disabilities.
Through her passion of advocating for the disability community, Tatum became a lead event chair for the Phoenix employee group chapter.
“I appreciate being a part of this group because I get to educate people that might be in the same mindset that I was in before,” she says. “As I go through this journey, I can share some of my experiences and lesson learned with others, so they understand the different hurdles people face daily. I also want to spread overall understanding and acceptance in being kind to one another.”
Ridge is now 15 months old and thriving thanks to Tatum’s continued advocacy. He is now walking and is actively rummaging through the kitchen pantry.
“Looking back to how he was at three months old to now, he is a completely different kid,” she shares. “The progress makes me feel good in my heart because I was the voice for the voiceless in ensuring he got the care he deserves.”