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BIRTH CRISIS FORCED FAMILY INTO POVERTY

Bret and Ann Yearsley's family spent several years in deep poverty to qualify for medical care for their baby, who was born prematurely with major complications.

Today they have their own home and they're doing well. Ann will tell you, having experienced both, that prosperity is better than poverty.Bracken is now 6, an active, sunshiny boy with boundless energy, enthusiasm and wit. Except for the small oxygen tank he wears in a backpack his mother designed so he can run free like other children, he's no different from the rest of his kindergarten class.

The Yearsleys were farmers. When she was 28 weeks into her fourth pregnancy, Bracken was born. Like many self-employed people, they didn't have insurance when crisis hit them. Theirs took the form of bronchopulmonary dysplasia, caused because Bracken's lungs had not finished forming. Without extensive medical care he would die.

Bret had been in a serious accident, so they were able to get government-funded medical help. But they had to give up the farm, sell their livestock and impoverish themselves to do it.

"What it did to me was it took away my pride and it made me feel like less of a person. Why even try?" Ann Yearsley says. "I knew I was just going to lose if I tried to beat it. But Bret was working three jobs and I decided to start my own business. I needed a fanny pack to carry my day planner so I could carry Bracken and his oxygen around. That was the start for me."

Franklin Quest bought her design. Then she designed a backpack so Bracken could wear a tiny oxygen tank and play like any other child.

He loves to swing. Before his mom designed the backpack, he could only go as high as the length of the tube that brought him oxygen. Now, the sky is, literally, the limit.

Bret went to work at Intermountain Health Care, which provides medical insurance for the family and picked up Bracken after a year.

They would have been free much sooner, she said, if Bracken had been able to get a Medicaid card without all the other strings attached.

Four years ago, the entire family posed for a newspaper photograph. Today, the older children don't want to talk about tough times or even remember them.

Their mother believes that reticence is a good sign: "When we were poor, they had no pride at all. They had given up. Now they are proud. We have a home. They can do the things their friends can do. They don't feel like they're less than their friends who have more money.

"It's too bad that money tends to make us feel better or worse about ourselves, but it does. Since we have gotten to where we're middle class, my daughter is a whole different person. Children respond differently. There were other kids who didn't want to be their friends because we were poor.

"My kids still don't get fancy clothes. But they know when other kids get to go places like field trips, they can go, too. They don't have to make up excuses to save face."

The most important thing, Ann Yearsley says, is her family has come to believe it can be done. When times are tough, you can work hard and change them. "When I started trying to think of a way to get out of the financial bind, my kids and husband were pessimistic. When I got my first success with Franklin, I took them in one at a time to see the packs. When I did, I gave each one a hug and said, `See, it can be done.' "

She believes welfare has a time and place. Her family would have been in serious trouble without it. "It helped me. Thank you."

But she's glad her time and place is past.