LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. (WFLA) – Thirteen-year-old Hope Dees of Land O’ Lakes has seen more hospital rooms and undergone more surgeries than she has had birthdays.
Dees, who was born eight weeks premature, was diagnosed with several medical conditions. Those conditions, unfortunately, included congenital heart defects and a mild form of Cerebral Palsy.
“When we were first told about her diagnosis from a different doctor who was not a cardiologist, he said she would not live to see her first birthday most likely. We were devastated,” said Hope’s mother, Kelly Dees.
So far, the teen has undergone three open heart surgeries. She has also bravely endured two orthopedic surgeries, several cardiac catheterizations and countless years of physical rehabilitation.
In spite of Hope’s numerous medical hurdles, she is taking her story of strength and courage from Florida, all the way to Capitol Hill.
“We will speak with lawmakers about the importance of healthcare coverage for children with complex medical conditions and the importance of making sure they are covered lifelong,” her mom said.
The Dees family, along with members of St. Joseph Children’s Hospital, gathered at Tampa International Airport on Monday. The group is heading off to D.C. where they plan to impress upon several members of Congress the importance of protecting Medicaid funding for children.
The trip includes one-on-one meetings with U.S. Representatives Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Darren Soto, Ross Spano, and Greg Steube. They will also be meeting with U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.
“As she graduated out for children medical services, it’s always my worry – what’s the climate going to be like? What is the health care coverage going to be like for patients with preexisting conditions? It’s so important they take that into consideration,” said Dees.
The journey to Washington, D.C. is a part of the Children’s Hospital Association’s annual Family Advocacy Day.
Hope will join nearly 50 other pediatric patients from across the nation. Their mission and goal are to encourage Congress to do their utmost to safeguard Health Care coverage for kids.
“To be able to say, ‘Look she is still here, she’s still working it, she’s doing great.’ To be able to share that and advocate for Hope but also for other kids with complex medical issues, I’m so excited to do something positive,” said Hope’s mother.