Love – and support – helps family navigate health issues.
Meet the McGrath Family
Lafayette Hill, Pa.
Rita McGrath’s daughter, Maura, age 18, has Down syndrome, autism and many other medical issues. Her husband, Joe, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a year ago. But it was Rita’s battle with cancer that connected the McGrath family with human services that would become the lifeblood of their daily lives.
When Maura was 17 months and sister Michelle was three months, Rita was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was working full time at a bank; Joe was working full-time at Philadelphia Gas and her health crisis made it difficult for them to keep it all together. “Having surgeries and chemotherapy, all while working,” says Rita, “It just became too much being so sick.”
The McGraths relied heavily on extended family for help, but the burden became too great even for those extra hands. So the family turned to medical assistance.
Maura’s medical problems require 24-hour-a-day care. Thanks to medical assistance, Maura receives care after school and for eight hours on non-school days. “Without these services, I don’t know what would have happened,” says Rita.
Now, 15 years later, Rita is in remission. “Thank God, I’m good now,” she says of that time in her life. But she worries about Maura’s future, hoping to get her into a program when she turns 21 and ages out of her current supports. “Joe and I will be in our 60s,” Rita adds. “It will be harder and harder to keep up. And since Joe’s Parkinson’s disease is progressive, I will be taking care of him.
“Even though Maura is non-verbal, she loves being around people. I want her to enjoy her life, have a job, activity or day program to be useful.”
Without supports, especially Maura’s medical waiver, “none of this would be possible,” Rita adds. Retired from the gas company, Joe now has a part-time job. Michelle, now a high school junior, was just named a distinguished scholar athlete and is planning for college. And Rita is proud of how far her family has come. “People don’t know what goes on in a family like ours. It’s hard. It’s lonely. But I’m thankful for what we have.”