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Article from Sun Sentinel news Paper

Child's Wish: Make Mommy's Leg Better

By Sallie James
Staff Writer

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 after
her daughter or romp with the little girl on the floor.

Born with a malfunctioning lymph system, the former all-state swimmer's left
leg has swelled to almost five times its original size. Round, bulbous tumors
have erupted across the leg, causing further disfigurement and pain.

But to little "Breezy," who has never seen her mother any other way, it's
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 in the
park. It's hard for me to get up off the ground without someone helping me

Breezy's holiday wish? "Make mommy's leg feel better."

Disabled by her condition, Borken has been unable to work. She keeps her leg
covered, largely to avoid the negative attention it draws wherever she goes.
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 people
think she is stealing something because of the protrusion," Petrel said.

Borken's condition, known as Milroy's Disease, is estimated to occur in about
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 fluid
from her leg and keep down the swelling. But Borken said Medicaid won't pay
for the pricey garments unless she is hospitalized.

Breezy's father is not involved in the little girl's life, although a photo
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 a normal
childhood," Borken said. "I don't want her to be teased because her mother
has a problem. I just want to get help for my leg and give my daughter the
best life I can."

Although Borken hates to ask for help, financial constraints forced her to
seek assistance from Jewish Family Service. The agency has helped with some
outstanding bills and provided the Pull-Ups that her daughter still wears at

Borken has heard of an operation available in Europe that is supposed to
repair the lymphatic system and significantly reduce the symptoms, but she
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?'" Borken said.

About two years ago, she sought treatment at the Esther Grossman Women's
Health and Resource Center, where she underwent specialized massage to help
her lymph glands drain. But Borken had to cut her treatment short after her
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 buys
clothes and toys at yard sales and gladly accepts help from relatives. Borken
receives $545 in Social Security income each month, plus $180 in food stamps
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 over.
She worries that her decrepit 1988 Ford Aerostar will break down.

"She is a wonderful mom who has this horrendous problem, but in spite of
that, her main concern is to care for her little girl," said Barbara Bailin,
who coordinates Jewish Family Service's "Acts of Loving Kindness" fund to
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 been
renting at the Oak Grove mobile home park, only to learn she will soon have
to move. The aging park was sold recently, and a developer wants to build 90
upscale townhomes there.

"For her to finally get her own place was like a dream come true," Bailin

So, determined to find someone who might be able to provide her with medical
relief, Borken appeared on a Nov. 15, 2001, episode of the Maury Povich show
to talk about her leg. No one responded.

"She needs help," said Vicki's mother, Selma Borken, 78, who lives in
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 a
competitive swimmer at North Miami Beach High School in the late 1970s, never
allowing her malady to slow her down.

"She was all-county, all-state and all-American in water polo," her mother
said. "It's really horrible. The baby talks about mommy's good leg and her
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 is
a luxury she cannot afford. Breezy loves computers and plays endlessly on an
old machine a relative donated. Borken dreams of buying one, but knows that,
too, is unlikely. A faster machine would make it easier to search for
information about lymph edema and connect her with other sufferers, she said.

"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 how
urgent her situation is."

Sallie James can be reached at or 954-572-2019.

Copyright (c) 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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