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TRICARE Family Receives World-Class Care

Mrs. Patricia Opong-Brown , TRICARE Management Activity

TRICARE, December 16, 2008

On a cold February day in 2004, a TRICARE family welcomed two beautiful conjoined twin girls into the world. Through a routine prenatal ultrasound at 18 weeks, the Buckles learned their babies were joined at the chest and abdomen. At 34 weeks in her pregnancy, a surgical team at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., delivered the twins by Caesarean section – the first delivery of conjoined twins at the medical center.

Since the pregnancy was determined high risk, a case manager was assigned to the family for the extensive guidance that was necessary due to the complexity of their situation. Marine Master Sgt. Kevin Buckles, Assistant Drum Major of the United States Marine Drum & Bugle Corps, and his wife Melissa learned how to obtain the best possible care for their twin girls through TRICARE. “We’ve been lucky enough to have a case manager assigned to us which has helped tremendously,” said Master Sgt. Buckles. “Her knowledge and perseverance has greatly assisted us.”

Nearly four months after their birth, a team of more than 100 medical staff separated the girls at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The operation took more than six hours. The twins survived the separation surgery but doctors later learned that one suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed from the chest down. The baby girls could sleep in separate cribs, sit in separate car seats and look at each other from a distance.

Due to the unique medical situations the girls faced, their primary care manger referred them for services outside of its capability such as diagnostic tests, outpatient surgery, physical therapy and home health care.

TRICARE covers medical care for the girls at civilian network facilities such as the Children’s National Medical Center, the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury in Baltimore, Md., and Fredericksburg Physical Therapy in Fredericksburg, Va., when they can not get the specialized care they need at military treatment facilities (MTFs).

Throughout the journey, the Buckles commented how the MTFs and civilian networks developed a seamless partnership for their care. “We think it’s been an invaluable asset and partnership between the two because it enabled us to move freely back and forth to obtain the care our family needs,” Master Sgt. Buckles said.

The Buckles are no strangers to the medical system. In addition to one of the four-year-old twins, their seven-year-old daughter also receives physical and occupational therapy at Kennedy Krieger Institute’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury for spinal cord lipoma, a condition she also had from birth. She has lost feeling in her right leg from the knee down. The physical therapy she and her sister receive is tailored specifically to them so that they can gain as much function as possible.

The three girls are part of the Marine Corps Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). It ensures service members that their family members can get the best care possible at existing and future duty assignment locations. One daughter is also in TRICARE’s Extended Care Health Option (ECHO). ECHO delivers financial help to active duty family members with a qualifying mental or physical disability as defined by law. The Buckles have learned a great deal about their TRICARE benefits and would like to tell other beneficiaries to do the same. “Make sure that you learn about your benefit entitlements and be an advocate for you and your family,” said Master Sgt. Buckles.

The Buckles family is well. The children are active and keeping their parents busy. They are excited to go to school each day and come home with fun stories to share. And thanks to TRICARE, their health care needs continue to be met, allowing them to learn and grow with the best possible medical care.

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