Helping Hospitalized Kids Return Home

Hometown Heroes, On the Road, People
on December 14, 2008
John Curry Once near death from a birth defect, Katie Moore today is a living miracle.

Katie Moore is a happy, bubbling 9-year-old who plays with dolls and climbs trees with her friends. She also is a living miracle. Three years ago, the little blond girl was on 33 different medications and near death from a birth defect when Laura Moore and her husband, Mike, took her as a foster child into their home in Lilburn, Ga. (pop. 11,307). Katie, who survived two rare five-organ transplants, now is the couple's adopted daughter.

As a pediatric nurse for more than 20 years, Moore cared for many children like Katie who had been saved by medical breakthroughs but whose ongoing needs overwhelmed their parents. Seeing these children languish for years in hospitals or nursing homes tugged at her heartstrings, and she resolved to help them.

"If these children can be so determined to stay alive, we must be accountable for the kind of life we are saving them for," says Moore, 46, who founded Dream House for Medically Fragile Children in 2001. Today, the Lilburn-based nonprofit organization offers training and resources for parents, foster parents and other caregivers tending to children with significant medical challenges.

Nearly 30 employees—paid through donations and grants—operate a training facility, a care hotline and a staffed transition house, where children with complex healthcare needs receive treatment and lodging while their caregivers learn how to care for them when they come home.

Many of these children have chronic lifelong health issues such as cerebral palsy, severe paralysis or major birth defects, and they require around-the-clock care to survive. Parents may have to learn to insert feeding tubes or tracheotomy tubes for breathing and respond to nightly cardiac monitor alarms.

Teaching parents these critical-care skills and providing respite care and home modification help means Dream House kids can live in homes instead of hospitals.

"At-home care is a third of the institutional cost and children become physically and emotionally healthier," Moore says. But there weren't even state regulations for programs like Dream House until she stepped in.

"Laura lobbied the Georgia Legislature to get a bill passed to license transitional care centers," says Normer Adams, executive director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children in Atlanta. "She is a true visionary and prophet for these children."

Moore's organization is a lifeline for Ken and Judy Hammett, who parent three foster children with cerebral palsy and administer dozens of medications daily. All are in wheelchairs, and two children require a feeding tube and oxygen.

"If I'm having a problem at any hour, I know I can call Dream House and they will tell us what to do," says Judy, 65, of Stone Mountain, Ga.

Moore also helped the couple get money to install a stair lift, handicapped swing and handicapped bathroom at their home. "Laura never stops trying," Judy says. "She sees the faces of those children who die alone in the hospital and this keeps her going."

Nowadays Laura is on a crusade to promote her Dream House concept throughout Georgia and the nation. Dream House owns property in nearby Conyers, where Moore hopes one day to build several more transition care homes.

"For every child we save with new treatments, there is a need to take care of these children," Moore says. "And our program empowers families and communities to do just that."