Gail and McKenzie: A Great-Grandmother and Child
For Gail Ertel, a widow who has 11 grown children, the golden years are all about her 7-year-old great granddaughter, McKenzie, who is blind, autistic and has numerous other disabilities. The multi-generational family of two came together in 2001, the year McKenzie was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Ertel's 16-year-old granddaughter. Ertel closed her home day-care business of 19 years and became McKenzie's full-time caregiver at an age when other people retire to quiet houses and well-deserved leisure. Gail Ertel struggles to pay for her own medical bills and those of her great granddaughter. Ertel's sense of stability was further unraveled this year when she was told in May that she was not eligible for a Medicaid benefit that helped keep her and McKenzie afloat -- $400 a week that Ertel had combined with her Social Security and McKenzie's disability check to make ends meet. Nationally, nearly 200,000 children 5 to 17 with disabilities are in the care of a grandparent, according to census statistics.