Published on 5/21/01
By MARLENE NAANES
Advocate staff writer
Since LaClaudium Ootsey was 9 years old, she has fed, bathed and cooked for her mother, who uses a wheelchair. Her father works two jobs to cover medical expenses.
The 14-year-old sometimes wakes up to start her homework at 3 a.m. after falling asleep on the couch, tired from a long day. But getting almost all A's in school during her mother's illness, multiple sclerosis, has not been her greatest challenge.
"The hardest part was seeing my mama going from walking to the wheelchair," said LaClaudium Ootsey, an eighth-grader at Scotlandville Middle School and winner of a Comeback Kid Award.
LaClaudium Ootsey and 19 other students -- all from East Baton Rouge Parish middle schools -- won the Dow Chemical Co.-sponsored award. A ceremony Thursday recognized the students who successfully overcame challenges in their lives to do well in school, said Babs Babin, a spokeswoman for the company.
"The roles of mother and daughter became reversed for LaClaudium," said Pamela Mackie, a supervisor for parish public schools.
Yet, LaClaudium Ootsey does well in school and aspires to be a doctor, find a cure for her mother's illness and write a book about people's experiences. She also won various awards at school for straight A's and "Most Likely to Succeed."
"LaClaudium is a child who doesn't like to make a C," said her mother, Cynthia Ootsey.
LaClaudium Ootsey began caring for her mother in her mother's second year with MS. The disease progressively damages a protective covering of nerves in the brain and spinal cord, sometimes paralyzing a victim.
When LaClaudium Ootsey was 6, she would take her mother's wheelchair from their van by herself when the two went on shopping trips.
By the age of 9, she was bathing her mother and cooking her meals -- from scratch.
"She doesn't make box cakes," Cynthia Ootsey said.
LaClaudium Ootsey's specialties are casseroles and jambalaya, Cynthia Ootsey said.
Her daughter also cleans the house, does her mother's hair and keeps the bills and checkbook up to date.
When her mother has been hospitalized, LaClaudium Ootsey and her father would sleep on cots in the hospital room, and she would wake up at 5 a.m. to go to school.
"Sometimes it really seems like she was robbed of her childhood," Cynthia Ootsey said. "I climbed trees, slid down hills and played on swings when I was a child."
If her mother was sick at home, LaClaudium Ootsey would kneel down next to her and watch over her.
"She would stay up until 2, 3 o'clock in the morning and still go to school," Cynthia Ootsey said. "I always said she had to be a child sent from God."
LaClaudium Ootsey said she works hard because she loves her mother. She said she also is proud of her award.
"I think I deserve it, but I think others deserve it more," she said.
She said her home life seems much more manageable when compared to that of another award recipient, who is stricken with cancer.
Danielle Porter, 13, has been in and out of school since she was diagnosed with Wilm's Tumor, a type of cancer. Despite remaining at home to fight her latest bout with the disease, Danielle Porter maintained a B average and volunteered to read to kindergarten students as her health permits, Mackie said.
The latest relapse has lasted two years and forced Danielle Porter, an eighth-grader at Istrouma Middle School, to use a wheelchair, and her medication often makes her sleepy.
But her illness has not dashed her dreams or determination, said Pearl Porter, her mother.
"She wants to be a kindergarten teacher," she said. "Math is her favorite subject."
Danielle Porter also has been a cheerleader and a cheerleading coach, she said.
Pearl Porter said she is proud of her daughter's accomplishments and said she will achieve her goals with her family's encouragement.
"For her to do all she's doing after what she's going through is amazing," Pearl Porter said. "She has a good understanding of her homework even though she's been out of school."
The smiling mother also said she hopes that when other children read about Danielle Porter and the other Comeback Kids, they will realize their problems are not as bad as they seem and will also strive to do well in school.
The other Comeback Kids are as follows:
Mandi Ash, Kenilworth
Middle School; Elena Aucoin, Sherwood Middle School; Eduardo Ayala, Staring
Education Center; Terrance Belvins, Northwestern Middle School; Brittany
Boatner, Broadmoor Middle School; Daisy Bounnavong, Glasgow Middle School;
Andreka Boyd, Prescott Middle School; Adrean Carter, McKinley Middle School;
LaJazzia Davis, Capitol Middle School; Leon Gales, Glen Oaks Middle School;
Tiesha Gransberry, Baker Middle School; Kevin McNabb, Central Middle School;
Victor Miller, Southeast Middle School; Kimber Payne, Park Forest Middle
School; Tracy Tarver, Northeast High School; Jawanda Thomas, Crestworth
Middle School; Katy Verlander, Westdale Middle School; and Melissa Whitley,
White Hills Alternative Middle School.