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Family scrambles to cover daughter’s medical payments

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Marlisa Smith, holding her disabled daughter, Ashley, at right, has struggled to pay for her daughter’s care while tending to her other two girls. Smith is shown with her boyfriend, Mikala Molina, and daughters Mikayla Molina, in foreground, and Sierra Smith.

This Christmas, Marlisa Smith has to choose between paying the bills or getting a little something for her three girls.

Smith worries most about not keeping up with daughter Ashley’s medical bills; they’ve been accumulating since she was born with a severe brain abnormality, mental retardation and autism seven years ago.

Her boyfriend was injured on the job a few weeks ago and worker’s compensation has yet to kick in. He’s the sole breadwinner of the family, and there’s not much in their savings account. Smith can’t work outside the home because she always needs to be on stand-by for Ashley if she has breathing problems or other emergencies.

She also is heavily involved in her daughter’s school and doctor/therapy appointments, and has to take care of her baby girl.

The Adopt-A-Family program, run by Helping Hands Hawaii, can help families struggling through a rough patch by providing a bit of Christmas cheer. The public can designate their funds or donated goods to a certain family in need through the Star-Advertiser’s annual Good Neighbor Fund.

Household supplies, toys and clothing can be dropped off at the agency’s Community Clearinghouse, or arrangements can be made for large items to be picked up.

Ashley has microcephaly — an abnormally small brain — that would make her unable to crawl, sit up, or walk on her own, according to a doctor’s diagnosis. The disorder also affected her daughter’s body — her facial features are small, and she looks more like she is 4 years old instead of 7 — Smith said, and she has braces on her legs.

Smith said she refused to believe her daughter would grow up to be as helpless as the neurologist described.

"I had faith that if I pushed hard enough, I could prove that (diagnosis) wrong." Even if the outcome wasn’t what Smith wanted, "at least I know I tried," she said, adding, "If I didn’t, I wouldn’t know how far she could have gone."

"I built a team (of therapists) for Ashley with a lot of hard work and tears, not stopping, even though some days it felt like nothing was helping," said Smith, who called everywhere, determined to get every bit of help possible from public health nurses, and occupational, physical and speech therapists.

"I am proud to say Ashley is a very active and smart little girl. She loves running and playing ball, loves swimming and splashing water, loves to read along by pointing to words that we point to, as we read to her." Ashley cannot hold a pencil, but can do puzzles and other lessons on an iPad her school provides, she added.

Smith left a relationship on Maui in 2007 with the father of Ashley and her eldest daughter, Sierra. She lived in a Waianae transitional housing project for a while.

"I had to be a mom, dad, everything to my girls," she recalled. "I knew I couldn’t give up on them. I had to show my daughter Sierra, you gotta just keep going in life."

Sierra — now 13, and a straight-A, active student at Waianae Intermediate School — has "played a big role in helping me" carry out the exercises suggested by therapists, Smith added.

Boyfriend Mikala Molina entered their lives about three years ago, knowing the difficulties she had with Ashley and being a single mother.

"From the start he fell in love with the girls and saw something special in them immediately. Working side by side with us to help Ashley, she learned to walk" after age 4. The couple then had Mikayla, now 2, who teaches Ashley what the toddler is also learning. Ashley loves the music Molina plays on the ukulele; he sings to her every day.

"We are fortunate to have all we have even if it may not seem like much to others. We have our health, a roof over our heads, and food on the table. During the holiday season it’s a little hard for us to provide what we wish we could for our babies. I wish I could give them so much, especially for working so hard and not giving up, for loving each other, for striving together as a family," Smith said.

Ashley has outgrown her toddler bed, which Smith would gladly exchange for a twin bed anyone donates. As a member of an All-Stars after-school softball team, Sierra needs a large stainless-steel flask or a gift card from Sports Authority. Smith is also washing cars to raise money for Sierra’s school trip next year to San Diego to compete with other members of the Jr. Searider Television program.

3-Fold Craftsman Construction, Inc. $500
John Noland $500
Keith M. and Lisa M. Sakamoto $300
William A. and Diane I. Hahn $300
Elizabeth C. V. Purcell and John P. Purcell $250
Helene and Sam Shenkus $250
Ernest R. Morimoto $250
Norman T. Kukino $250
Joanne Tetsutani $200
In Loving Memory of Larry Maloney $200
Thelma M. Han $200
Kathleen A. Dodge $150
Wilfred A. and Gwen S. Miyasaki $150
John and Lisa Tokunaga $101
Chad Kawai $100
Charlotte N. Yamada $100
G.I. Awaya and Family $100
Jean L. J. Lum Trustee $100
Jolene R. and Samuel L. Nakamatsu $100
Julie H. and Albert H. Morita $100
Kevin K. S. Tom and Faith Y. Kanno-Tom $100
Lynn R. Rogers $100
R. H. Iwai, TTEE and J. H. Iwai, TTEE $100
Albert J. Schutz $50
C. and S. Sagara $50
Dennis T. and Leslie Y.S. Kenjo $50
Gail S. and John T. Tsuhako $50
Kenton, Karynna and Kallen $50
Lynn Araki $50
William H. Toldsley and Patti L. Tildsley $50
Leatrice Arakaki $40
Craig S. and Evelyn U. Arakaki $30
Samson K. Kaonohi $30
In Loving Memory of Dr. Fugate, Maryann, Christopher and Colin Carty $25
May L. Imamura-Uruu and Family $25
Pedro M. and Jane T. Poentis $25
George Futagawa $20
Wayne Buente and Lala Hajibayova $15
Amos Carvalho $10
Mae M. Chung $10
Scott Teruya $10
Anonymous $120    
This week’s total: $5,211
Grand total: $5,211

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