Anna Tomica could barely contain her smile as she dressed in her nurse whites, preparing for her walk across the stage Thursday night, on the way toward her dream of becoming a nurse.
But, the journey to this point has been a major struggle for Tomica, 32, a native of Poland who came to America as an international student.
Tomica took on the Medicaid system when it tried to reduce the hours it would pay to care for her disabled 9-year-old son.
Without that care, Tomica would have had to leave one of her two jobs and watch her dream of becoming a nurse disappear.
But, with the help of Legal Services of Greater Miami, Tomica won the legal battle.
On Thursday, she crossed the stage at Robert Morgan Educational Center to be pinned as a Licensed Practical Nurse, opening the doors to a better future for her and her son.
Tomica came to the U.S. from Poland as an international student in 2000. By 2003, she was married, pregnant and ready to graduate from Miami City College with a degree in business management.
Her son Nathan was born on Sept. 13, 2003.
When the infant was 5 weeks old, Tomica, who was working as a medical assistant for a Broward doctor, got a call while she was at work. The babysitter told her she could no longer care for Nathan. When her husband came to pick her up from work, Nathan was sleeping.
“I couldn’t wake him up,” Tomica said. The baby’s eyes and the soft spot on top of his head were bulging.
“We took him to the emergency room right away. They didn’t know what was happening.”
Doctors concluded that Nathan, who was bleeding in the brain and in his retinas, had been violently shaken. He had liver damage and a broken legbone. There were marks on his body, indicating he had been shaken.
Nathan spent more than a week on life support.
Babies can die from Shaken Baby Syndrome, Tomica said. But not Nathan.
“He’s a fighter,” she said.
The incident left Nathan chair-bound. He has been hospitalized more than 80 times in his short life.
He is fed through a tube. He has 10 to 20 seizures a day. He cannot sit up or roll over. He cannot talk.
“I knew about Shaken Baby Syndrome,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that it could happen to my baby.”
A criminal investigation never found who was responsible for the abuse.
Soon after, Tomica separated from her husband, and eventually divorced him. She does not get child support.
Nathan has been getting nursing care since he came home from the hospital. Though Tomica had been working two jobs to keep her and her son afloat, the home health care agency providing Nathan’s care failed to file the proper paperwork with Medicaid. The agency decided to slice her childcare hours in half, which would have forced Tomica to quit one of the jobs.
She appealed and Legal Services of Greater Miami took the case.
“I saw that there was no way this girl was going to let this child out of her hands,” said Marcia Rabinowitz, at Legal Services. “It amazed me that she had such fortitude and strength.”
Tomica continued babysitting and housekeeping and entered a 14-month program to fulfill her life-long dream of becoming a nurse.
“I just want to make a difference in one person’s life,” she said. “That’s enough for me.”
With her nurse training, Tomica said she hopes to provide better care for Nathan and get the job security that has evaded her all these years.
Nathan and Rabinowitz were was among the guests in the audience Thursday as Tomica received her gold nursing pin.
Because of her hectic schedule, she doesn’t see her son as much as she would like, she said.
“But right now, I’m doing it for him because I want a better life for me and for him.”