Like any mother, the moment I laid eyes on my babies for the first time they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
Ten little toes and fingers, button noses and eyes that melted my heart. Perfection at its finest.
As the months went by, I started to notice a flat spot develop on my son’s head, but I was told not to allow either him or his twin sister to sleep on their bellies since the rate of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) was much higher for premature infants and even higher for boys.
I continued to reposition him, but nothing changed. I brought my concerns to our doctor but was always dismissed as though I was a crazy person. When you have twins, it’s hard to hold both babies at the same time, so my days have been filled with musical repositioning.
During a recent physical therapy session, I asked our occupational therapist for her opinion and she strongly encouraged me to get an evaluation done.
I bit the bullet and took my 6.5 month old son for the consultation in Austin. I needed the peace of mind.
The evaluation revealed what I had feared, Rory has moderate plagiocephaly that has affected his eye and ear placement. I was reassured I didn’t do this to him and his “flat head” is all related to prematurity and inutero positioning.
There is good news. It’s not too late and there is something we can do to help him. The DOC Band is a noninvasive, FDA approved cranial molding helmet that works by applying mild pressure to redirect the growth of their skull to where it should be. It is painless for the child and can be corrected in a few months. We were happy to find out there was such an easy solution for our son until I read the Tricare policy that says the only way it will cover the band is if the child has to have surgery to correct it first.
How unsettling. Our son needs this.
So, basically, they would rather subject a baby to invasive surgery then pay for the band instead of paying for the band to begin with to avoid surgery and paying tens of thousands of dollars for that surgery. Surgery to correct plagiocephaly is only about 30 percent successful in correcting the abnormal skull shape. The DOC Band has a 100 percent success rate in most cases and costs $3,500 compared to the tens of thousands that the surgery would cost.
If knowing something was wrong with our precious baby boy wasn’t enough, finding out Tricare wouldn’t cover the cost to correct it was a devastating blow to my husband and I. My husband has selflessly served his country for seven years but our military insurance won’t help us help our son?
To be a boy and not have hair covering his head like women do, his head would be really noticeable. I can compartmentalize pretty well, but when it’s your kids, it takes a toll on you.
I resigned from my position to care for our premature twins and we solely rely on my husband’s salary, where every last penny coming in is accounted for. Even with a military discount, the DOC Band is $2,500 and after financing and interest the cost is $3,561.
Like other families, we do not have that much money just sitting around. If our military lifestyle and finances weren’t already stressed enough, learning we had to come up with the funds ourselves because our insurance company deems the helmet “cosmetic” made us sick. He’s our baby and we want the best for him no matter what, even if it means joining the ranks of other military families drowning in debt.
There are hundreds of other families that are in the same situation as we are. If any type of plagiocephaly goes untreated it can result in a high risk for learning delays and developmental delays, increased need for special services when he reaches school age, orthodontic and temporomandibular joint issues, scoliosis, visual disturbances including visual field defects and astigmatism, auditory problems and psychological and social issues.
This is something that should be covered by Tricare 100 percent. This needs to change. Not only for my son, but for the 1 in 10 children that are diagnosed with plagiocephaly every year.
Vanessa Lynch is a former metro editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. An Army spouse, she and her husband live in Harker Heights with their two young children.