by Victoria S. Jacquet
Melissa Greeson was just nineteen years old when she discovered she was pregnant with her first child, Kailey Lynn. She was nervous at the thought of what others would think about the pregnancy, and also not knowing what to expect out of the experience. However, her excitement to meet Kailey quashed any last bit of that anxiety. “I actually called my mom to my house, and I gave her a present [because] we were really excited. I was her baby who was about to have a baby,” Greeson says. Never would she have imagined the traumatic events that unfolded on the day of her beautiful Kailey’s birth.
Greeson was in labor for nearly nineteen hours with Kailey Lynn: “I was exhausted, obviously, and towards the end of her labor [there were] signs that something was wrong. [Kailey] was in distress—I was in distress, but again I was only nineteen so I really didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that it wasn’t the fairytale that everybody talked about and not what I envisioned as becoming a mom for the first time.” By the time Kailey Lynn entered the world, she was not breathing. Whatever joy Greeson experienced immediately turned into a terror when Kailey was placed on oxygen to assist her respirations: “In time she started breathing on her own, which I didn’t expect because she was purple. She didn’t cry for a while, and she was really lifeless, so I was extremely scared. [Kailey] spent fifteen days in the NICU with ups and downs. They told me that I should basically pull the plug and take her off of life support—that she would be a vegetable, and I would never forgive myself for allowing her to live, which was hard to hear. I chose not to go down that route. In time they took her off of life support and she lived. I don’t know how, but it’s definitely a blessing.”
Shortly before Kailey's discharge from the hospital, Greeson received another devastating blow: “Before we left the NICU they told me she had epilepsy. She had a lot of swelling on her brain, [and they said we] had to see a regular pediatrician who then referred her to a neurologist. The neurologist who was following her did some scans of her brain and said that she had injuries to the brain. Injury can come from lack of oxygen, or like physical injury, and hers was from lack of oxygen.”
Greeson, then a single mother, stumbled upon an unexpected discovery that marked the beginning of a nearly thirteen-year-long successful legal battle: “I was actually watching MTV, and I saw a commercial about ‘your child’s diagnosis,’ what birth injuries were, and [it mentioned] cerebral palsy as a common birth injury.” Greeson spent some time contacting different firms regarding Kailey’s case and was referred to others. At this time, Kailey was about three months old and still suffering from epilepsy. Greeson "finally found one in Austin, Texas and he looked into it. One thing led into another.”
After feeling like she was getting the runaround from many doctors she went to for a medical diagnosis, Greeson turned to Kailey’s trusted neurologist, who was unfortunately dying from cancer. “Before he passed away he said that [Kailey] was too young for a formal diagnosis of cerebral palsy because they couldn’t diagnose until eighteen months or later. He said she definitely had cerebral palsy. We never saw him again, but I went with everything that he said, and he turned out to be correct,” says Greeson. Kailey’s doctors and legal counsel began to map the pieces together to discover Kailey’s condition was indeed from a birth injury caused from a lack of oxygen during delivery.
While going through Kailey’s trial, Greeson encountered uncomfortable statements that provoked a fierce determination to prove her doubters absolutely wrong: “Sitting through her case and hearing it repetitively that this child shouldn’t walk, this child shouldn’t do this, she can’t do that, she won’t do this, she’ll never go to college—that kind of stuff really just kept beating into my head. Hearing people talk about how I hadn’t gone to college so [Kailey] probably wouldn’t amount to much anyway as an adult even if she wasn’t injured really got to me, because here I was a mom of four, and again a single mom, hadn’t gone to college, did not have a career path, didn’t even know what I was going to do with myself—it just really got to me. Then talking to [Kailey’s] paralegal during her trial sparked some interest in me because she was there for me. She was my support system, and I wanted to do that for other families.” Greeson enrolled herself in the Paralegal Studies program at Athens Technical College to fulfill her goal of becoming a paralegal to assist others who were experiencing similar situations she had gone through with Kailey’s case. Greeson excelled in her studies and was even the President of the Student Paralegal Association on campus. She graduated from the program in 2016 and has since worked in a law firm handling birth injury cases. When humbly reflecting on her exciting accomplishments, Greeson states, “I didn’t get the dreams I had hoped for at first, but it was a good experience that kind of got my foot in the door as a paralegal. [My job] is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I feel like I can be there for other families—not just from a legal aspect, but I can help them through the emotional times and support system that they may not have through their families as I do with mine. Helping them with therapies—it’s just really helped me. Sitting through [Kailey Lynn’s] case is what inspired me to do better for myself and for my kids, and mostly her because she can’t live the life that we all dream about, but I can. She inspired me to do that.”
Greeson gives credit to Kailey Lynn, her mother, and her sister for helping her get through the most difficult periods throughout the trial: “I think ultimately my strength came from [Kailey Lynn] because I ended up being a single mom to her, and I knew that if I wasn’t there for her, nobody else was going to be there for her. I turned to my mom and my sister a lot for guidance [and] emotional support. I kind of had to use them to balance me out because I felt like I was more of a caregiver and a nurse to the baby than her mom at times because there was so much entailed. She was on medication almost immediately, and she’s still on it at fourteen years old for epilepsy. She’ll be on it for the rest of her life, so I constantly turn to the two of them for—I guess more so for emotional support. And they were kind of my back bone.
“I had to learn a lot through Kailey—a lot about therapy. [She wasn’t] meeting her milestones that most babies meet, so we had to come through that. I was told that she would not walk or talk. I was not giving up on that, and I’m still not giving up on that kind of stuff. She walks now, she talks, she can ride a bicycle—just things that are absolutely amazing and I do contribute it to that the fact that I guess being a younger mother, I was not going to give up hope. A lot of people, you know, get a diagnosis and decide that’s what they’re going to live by. I think hope, family support, and really pushing her made the difference.”
When asked about Kailey Lynn’s hobbies, Greeson states she is passionate about music. Just recently, Greeson took Kailey on a trip to New York to see her all-time favorite artist, Justin Bieber, as he performed his last concert for his U.S. tour in 2016. “Everything that they said she couldn’t do and that wouldn’t be a reachable goal for her is the things that she loves to do. Swimming, riding her bike, music—she can’t sing like you and I can because she has a significant speech delay. She’s on about a three to four year old’s age level as far as speech goes. To her, she’s singing beautiful music, and to me as her mom, its beautiful to hear words coming out of that mouth,” Greeson says. Greeson and Kailey also participate in events held by the group Extra Special People (ESP), which is a community for families with special children. “Having Kailey opened my eyes to other people’s abilities and disabilities. There are some children and young adults who are more severe than she is, and there are some who are not as severe as she is. But all parents have to deal with that through their own way. We’re not all the same, but if we all meet in these little groups and talk, it definitely helps relieve some of the stress to know that you are not all alone. I started helping, and she started attending ESP in 2010 . . . We had gone to several other support groups for parents with special needs children and I didn’t feel welcomed because I was still the young parent, and they used names like ‘retarded’ which was really hard to hear. I didn’t like that. When I reached out to ESP, we felt really welcomed and knowing that those people were more like family to each other was what we needed at that time. Kailey gets to attend summer camp with them, and she’s in a beauty pageant once a year. It’s not like your typical beauty pageant. They focus on the person as an individual and the things they can do, and it’s not about what one person can do better than the other—it’s just each individual. I’ve also jumped out of an airplane to help donate to help send other children to the camp whose parents won’t be able to afford without the help. There’s a lot of events with them but it’s more of a family things even if you are not blood family. We all know what we’re going through one way or another, so it really helps.
“One thing I would mention that keeps me going as a special mom is the fact that I would like to raise social awareness. I would really like for people to realize that having cerebral palsy is not a disease. She's not contagious, she's not disgusting—she's a human with feelings too. To do this, [I] keep her active in all kinds of community programs. We don't just do this for special needs, but we really focus on anything that keeps her active and involved in the community,” Greeson states.
Greeson encourages those who are walking through life with any struggles, especially those whose struggles are similar to hers, to “find that one glimpse of hope to pull yourself up. It is really helpful not giving up. There is always tomorrow, and if you give up the other person wins. If you don’t give up, and you just find your own inner strength, it feels really good to be able to overcome a situation that people say you won’t be able to.”