Nine years ago, Jackie Boatwright’s life changed. Less than two hours after arriving at work, she received a call that her 14-month-old son had had an accident at his daycare center. Anthony DeJuan had fallen head first into a bucket of mop water. He has been semi-comatose since that day.
During a journey that DeKalb County resident Boatwright said has been sustained by faith in God, unconditional love for her son, hope and determination, she has fought to continue her son’s life and to get legislation passed requiring daycare centers to have liability insurance.
Much of her time is now spent telling her story on television, in live public appearances, such as the one at the Mall at Stonecrest Jan. 30, and through a book she has written, Juan’s Story. She hopes that the next step will be a movie about her struggle and her son’s.
Juan now needs 24-hour care. The daycare provider did not have liability insurance. Boatwright’s medical coverage eventually ended, and some doctors suggested that she let her son die. There was no government disability available because her income was too high at the time. Then, she said, there were experiences of humiliation at organizations offering help for those in need.
A devastated Boatwright began to work to get legislation passed for daycare centers to have liability insurance. Today, 42 states have Juan’s Law, requiring daycare centers to have liability insurance, and if they do not have it, a notice must be prominently posted.
“It was unbelievable to learn that an individual could open a daycare center, be entrusted with someone else’s child, be endorsed by the state, and not be required to have liability insurance,” Boatwright said. “My plumber and my landscaper are required to have liability insurance. I don’t want any other mother and no other child to go through what we’ve had to go through.”
Today, Boatwright and her son’s days begin at 5 a.m. A nurse comes at 8 a.m., and there are scheduled medication times until 11 p.m.
“My son requires 24-hour care,” she said. “If a mother has a newborn baby, it can’t do anything. My son is like a newborn baby, if you can imagine that.
“I’ve been asked what my son can do or what quality of life he has and I say unconditional love is never with the eyes,” she said. “If God loved me based on what I can do, His love would be limited. I love my son just as much as I did when he was running around, as I do when I go to his bedside and kiss him on the cheek.”
To relieve the pain, Boatwright said, she began to write. “Having to repeatedly retell the story was too overwhelming,” she said. “I started writing like I was telling everything to someone. I felt the more people hear about what we experienced, the more people would believe in the impossible.”
Juan’s Story recounts Boatwright’s experiences after her son’s fall. She tells of her disillusionment with government agencies, how degrading it was to ask for help at the Salvation Army, how her medical bills piled up and when the money was gone doctors suggested she let Juan die.
“I wasn’t not letting go because I was in denial,” she said. “I love my son unconditionally, and I believe God can heal him.”
Boatwright’s journey to pass Juan’s Law has taught her to value life differently. “I understand what’s really important,” she said. “God gave us 86,400 seconds each day. Every second counts. My time on this Earth is the only thing I truly own. Once I got myself back together and my son stable, I began working on my doctorate, and I’ve created a 100 percent organic skincare line, Juanderful Products. It’s carried at 50 locations in Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee.”
A movie is also in the works. Boatwright hopes to begin production of For the Love of Juan by fall 2010. “The movie has been cast, except for the role of my mother and someone to play me,” she said. Alaina Reed-Hall (“Rose” from the TV sit-com 227), who died in December 2009, was to play Boatwright’s mother.
“My heart is into this,” she emphasized. “Sometimes I get in my car and pretend to shop for a daycare. Some daycare centers still do not have liability insurance, but there is a sign to inform you that there is none, and that lets me know my efforts were not in vain.
“What I did does not benefit my son. The law is not retroactive. Every sign I carried, every call I made, and every door I knocked on was for those children in daycare now and for those children coming to daycare in the future,” Boatwright said.