Child's Wish: Make Mommy's Leg Better
By Sallie James
December 6, 2002
HOLLYWOOD -- Single mother Vicki Borken's world revolves around her
4-year-old daughter, Brichele. But unlike most moms, Borken can't chase
her daughter or romp with the little girl on the floor.
Born with a malfunctioning lymph system, the former all-state swimmer's
leg has swelled to almost five times its original size. Round, bulbous
have erupted across the leg, causing further disfigurement and pain.
But to little "Breezy," who has never seen her mother any other
just "Mommy's bad leg."
"I can't wear regular pants," said Borken, 41, who spends much
of her time on
a couch, watching in frustration as her tousle-headed daughter plays alone.
"I'd like to be able to teach her all the sports I know, chase her
park. It's hard for me to get up off the ground without someone helping
Breezy's holiday wish? "Make mommy's leg feel better."
Disabled by her condition, Borken has been unable to work. She keeps
covered, largely to avoid the negative attention it draws wherever she
Borken gets around with a cane, but walking distances is treacherous because
her leg is so heavy.
"People stare all the time," said Borken.
Longtime friend Sharon Petrel, who helps with Breezy, said people's
insensitivity is heartbreaking. "She goes into a grocery store and
think she is stealing something because of the protrusion," Petrel
Borken's condition, known as Milroy's Disease, is estimated to occur
one in 6,000 people. Research and treatment of lymphedema has been limited,
although certain types of massage can give some relief, Borken said.
Her biggest fear is that Breezy will inherit the condition.
"It's possible she carries the gene. It's a recessive gene, but
so far, she
shows no sign of getting it," Borken said.
Borken needs special, custom-made compression garments to help force
from her leg and keep down the swelling. But Borken said Medicaid won't
for the pricey garments unless she is hospitalized.
Breezy's father is not involved in the little girl's life, although a
of him is taped to a wall in their trailer.
"I don't want Breezy to be burdened with my health, so she can have
childhood," Borken said. "I don't want her to be teased because
has a problem. I just want to get help for my leg and give my daughter
best life I can."
Although Borken hates to ask for help, financial constraints forced her
seek assistance from Jewish Family Service. The agency has helped with
outstanding bills and provided the Pull-Ups that her daughter still wears
Borken has heard of an operation available in Europe that is supposed
repair the lymphatic system and significantly reduce the symptoms, but
knows little about it and has no clue how she could afford such a procedure.
"I was actually asked once, `Why don't you have it taken off?'"
About two years ago, she sought treatment at the Esther Grossman Women's
Health and Resource Center, where she underwent specialized massage to
her lymph glands drain. But Borken had to cut her treatment short after
mother fell ill and her father died of a heart attack.
Money is tight, but Borken does the best she can for her daughter. She
clothes and toys at yard sales and gladly accepts help from relatives.
receives $545 in Social Security income each month, plus $180 in food
and Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
But after paying $375 to rent the space where her trailer sits, plus
electric, phone, medications and other essentials, there is little left
She worries that her decrepit 1988 Ford Aerostar will break down.
"She is a wonderful mom who has this horrendous problem, but in
that, her main concern is to care for her little girl," said Barbara
who coordinates Jewish Family Service's "Acts of Loving Kindness"
assist needy families. "Vicki would love to regain a normal life."
Yet life seems to just keep getting tougher.
Borken recently bought the two-bedroom, one-bathroom trailer she had
renting at the Oak Grove mobile home park, only to learn she will soon
to move. The aging park was sold recently, and a developer wants to build
upscale townhomes there.
"For her to finally get her own place was like a dream come true,"
So, determined to find someone who might be able to provide her with
relief, Borken appeared on a Nov. 15, 2001, episode of the Maury Povich
to talk about her leg. No one responded.
"She needs help," said Vicki's mother, Selma Borken, 78, who
Miami-Dade County and remembers how her daughter's leg deteriorated. "It's
hard for me to see her leg like that. Somebody else might feel sorry for
Selma Borken said the swelling wasn't visible until her daughter was
2 or 3
years old. Then one day, one of her shoes didn't fit. Yet Borken became
competitive swimmer at North Miami Beach High School in the late 1970s,
allowing her malady to slow her down.
"She was all-county, all-state and all-American in water polo,"
said. "It's really horrible. The baby talks about mommy's good leg
bad leg. And she kisses mommy's leg when Vicki doesn't feel good."
Breezy talks about meeting Mickey Mouse, but Borken says a trip to Orlando
a luxury she cannot afford. Breezy loves computers and plays endlessly
old machine a relative donated. Borken dreams of buying one, but knows
too, is unlikely. A faster machine would make it easier to search for
information about lymph edema and connect her with other sufferers, she
"When Vicki asks for things, it's for things like diapers,"
said Bailin, of
Jewish Family Service. "She isn't pushy. She just wants you to know
urgent her situation is."
Sallie James can be reached at email@example.com or 954-572-2019.
Copyright (c) 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel