November 30, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
After taking care of hundreds of Lake Orion's children over the years, Naomi Smith, 43, now needs the community to help take care of her.
Starting in the late 1990s, the school-age childcare provider worked at the CERC Building and then Blanche Sims Elementary School. She loved these jobs and especially working with kids of all ages, according to friend Jeanette Smith.
But, plagued by a rash of significant health problems over the past five years, her family and friends are now providing full-time care for the long-time Lake Orion resident and alum. They are hosting two fundraisers in the area to offset Smith's ever-increasing medical costs, of which insurance only covers a portion.
"Naomi dedicated so much time to kids of all ages and touched their lives," her friend said. "This community rallies around the less fortunate and I hope they rally around her and her family."
The fundraisers are being held on Dec. 5, 5-8 p.m., at the Big Boy restaurant in Oxford and Dec. 14, time TBD, at Applebees in Lake Orion. 15 percent of the sales from both events will be donated to the family.
Smith's ailments began in 2006, when she suffered a small stroke and then asthma attacks, which led to gastro paresis, a paralysis of the intestines and stomach. In 2007, her condition worsened to the point she received a feeding tube to sustain nutrition, which is still in place today.
In 2009, she required knee surgery that led to a blood clot and extended hospital stay. At that point, she was required to take an early retirement from the school district.
"That was especially disappointing to Naomi, for she had just received her bachelor's degree in child development after eight years of juggling work, school and raising a family, including two kids," Smith said.
The staff at Blanche Sims remembers how much Smith enjoyed working with youngsters. "Naomi absolutely loved working with our kids in the school-age childcare program," said Principal Jennifer Goethals. "She tried to stick it out as long as she could and was really disappointed when she had to leave her position."
Her health has not improved over the past two years. In 2010, Smith was exposed to MRSA (Staph), which required four surgeries, Jeanette Smith said. She also is suffering from a bulging disk and complications from a fallen bladder.
During this past summer, Smith experienced multiple seizures, resulting in memory loss, an inability to walk, muscle pain and other health issues. This fall, Smith was diagnosed with a form of mitochondrial syndrome, which could actually be the cause of all her health issues, a doctor said.
More tests are needed to confirm this, which would then enable doctors to plot a plan for possible recovery, but the family's insurance will not pay for them. Despite the fact that her illness is well documented, Smith has not been approved for government disability coverage.
Smith's husband, Randy, is now her full-time caregiver. Her kids, Amanda, a college junior and Joshua, a freshman at Lake Orion High School, also help with their mom's care.
"This is a great family," Jeanette Smith said. "They want to stay in the Lake Orion area."
Money raised from the fundraisers will not only help defray medical costs and therapy, but also help modify a house the family is considering to rent, to make it handicap-accessible. This includes an outside ramp and handicap accessible bathroom.
People can also make contributions by contacting Chase Bank in Oxford. For more information, contact Jeanette Smith at 248-821-3133.