Life with Gracie: No parent should have to choose between paying rent, buying medicine

Just weeks after she celebrated her 15th birthday on Jan. 28, 2016, doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite diagnosed Shuntica Carroll with leukemia.

She had undergone only three rounds of chemotherapy treatments when doctors noticed another problem: The left side of Shuntica’s heart had been damaged by the treatment, and she needed around-the-clock care.

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Shuntica’s mom, Jessica Smith, was forced to quit her job. With just her husband Kevin’s income and mounting out-of-pocket medical costs for their daughter, they struggled to make ends meet.

Now they were faced with a decision — pay their rent or purchase Shuntica’s meds, the shower chair, walker and bedside commode she needed once she returned home.

Despite the U.S. being one of the richest countries in the world, it’s the kind of decision many American families must make every day, the thing that was at the heart of comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue about his newborn’s heart procedure.

Kimmel, of course, wasn’t hurting for health insurance or the money that buys it, but he clearly knew the immense stress and heartbreak that families like the Smiths face when their children are ill and in the hospital.

“No family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can’t afford it,” the comedian said.

Of course, he’s right.

The Smiths had made the hard decision to put their daughter first when in walked the woman Jessica Smith calls God’s angel, Molly Dugan, a social worker at Children’s.

Dugan told the Smiths the Silverton Foundation would make their $940 rent payment. It’s what they do.

The Smiths couldn’t believe it.

“We looked at each other,” Jessica said. “I said, ‘Are you serious?’”

Within weeks, the Smiths’ rent was paid, and the couple got back on track.

That would not have happened without Josh Moffitt’s vision to help ease families’ financial burden by providing rent and mortgage assistance.

Moffitt, founder of the foundation and father of three small children, said that giving back has long been a mission of his Midtown mortgage company, Silverton Mortgage Specialists Inc.

He had done that, sponsoring events and writing checks to other nonprofits. But in 2012, he decided he wanted to do something more tangible, something he could see and touch.

He began discussing the idea with his partners at Silverton Mortgage.

“We knew that a lot of parents with sick children were forced to quit their jobs or take unpaid leave, that sometimes they were evicted from their apartments or lose their homes because they can no longer meet those financial obligations,” Moffitt said. “We wanted not just for families to get back home but the children to get back to their rooms.”

Moffitt did his research and discovered there was no organization helping to bridge that gap.

RELATED: By not discussing cost issues, doctors, patients may miss chance to lower out-of-pocket expenses

He launched the Silverton Foundation in 2013 so he could.

The nonprofit works with hospital social workers across the country to help identify families in need. To date, it has helped some 200 families, mostly in Georgia.

“We set a goal to help with 1,200 months or 100 years of mortgages and rents by 2018,” he said. “So far, we’ve paid 35 years’ worth.”

The average payout is roughly $800 per family, but Moffitt said there is no dollar amount that would be too much.

That doesn’t mean the foundation doesn’t need help, too. The need is great. If you’d like to help, log onto its website:

If you don’t think it could happen to you, think again. Even those of us who have insurance are finding holes in our safety net.

The Smiths certainly did.

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