In Molly Altman’s view, the Kentucky Cabinet of Health and Family Services “stole my heart” by denying her custody of her 18-year-old son who has intellectual disabilities after the two had been together the boy’s entire life.
Altman said she earned a college degree and a trade school certification while home-schooling her son, Zachary Grogan, who is autistic and has the intellectual capacity of a 5 year old. Zachary has seizures and the genetic disorder Tuberous Sclerosis, which can cause benign tumors in the body.
Altman told the Herald-Leader she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system condition, when her son was 4 and since then she has used a walker and an electric wheelchair, but always had custody of him. She said she has been able to drive him to medical appointments, to physically pick him up if he had seizures, and to meet his other needs.
Altman said in 2017 she got a severe infection in both of her legs due to the conditions lymphedema and cellulitis. She said she was in and out of the hospital, and Zachary, 17 at the time, was placed in foster care because she was unable to quickly find someone to care for him while she was hospitalized.
Now, she says, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services won’t let him come back home, and she has had only one visit with him since last summer. She showed the Herald-Leader a letter from her physician stating she had recovered from the infection. Molly Altman said her son has told her on the telephone that he wants to come home.
“He has lived his entire life with just me and I have taken great care of him, and now he has been stolen from me,” Molly Altman said. “This boy is my heart. The Cabinet for Families and Children stole my heart… because I got sick.”
Molly Altman’s father, retired University of Kentucky associate professor Dennis Altman, describes his daughter as “a remarkably high achiever.”
“My daughter and grandson were a happy, loving family,” Dennis Altman said. “Then she got sick and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services stepped in and gave him a temporary home. Then my daughter got well. But then, the Cabinet refused to give the boy back to his mother. Is this nightmare even possible in a modern democracy?.”
“I don’t drink or do drugs,” Molly Altman said. “I am educated. I have a nice home with a great room for Zac. Zac is also mentally 5 years old and I have his room full of all his favorite toys. All I did is get sick. I never hit him. I never starved him.. ...There are such bad parents out there who are allowed to parent and here I am ... a mother who loves her son so much.”
Molly Altman said she has attended hearings in Fayette Family Court at which Cabinet officials have refused to return her son. In January, Zachary turned 18.
Anya Weber, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the Herald-Leader that Cabinet officials could not comment on the case.
Weber said state law makes reports of dependency, neglect or abuse confidential and renders all information obtained from the Cabinet confidential. “There are some exceptions, but none apply in this instance.,” Weber said.
A Dec. 17, 2017, Cabinet document provided to the Herald-Leader by Molly Altman shows that after being placed in foster care, Zachary was enrolled in public school special education courses at McCreary County High School and was doing well there. Cabinet officials made a recommendation that Molly Altman have supervised contact with her son as long as she was “medically clear.” Officials also recommended that Zachary stay in the Cabinet’s care past his 18th birthday because of his intellectual disability and his inability to live on his own.
Altman said she is concerned that her son has been moved to more than one foster home since he has been in the Cabinet’s care.
Dennis Altman said when Zachary developed persistent seizures, Molly took extra courses in child development and began to home school him.
She was not only an excellent teacher and a loving mother, her father said, but she “rose above the challenge of her own multiple sclerosis and managed to work at home so she could be with him at all times,” Dennis Altman said. He said she “set a clean-living example for Zachary;” in that she never smoked cigarettes or used liquor or drugs.
Altman said that while he does not live with his daughter and grandson, the three of them “were a happy and caring Lexington family” who visited parks, museums, and libraries. But when Dennis Altman retired from his faculty position at UK and relocated to Florida, mother and son were alone, he said.
Altman said he told Cabinet officials that he would be glad to take Zachary and Molly to live with him in Florida, where he’s lived for about four years. “I have the means, the space, and the will to make this happen. This was also refused. Something must be done,” he said.
“This is a family that has been broken apart, and no plea for reuniting this anguished mother and child has been honored,” Dennis Altman said.. Altman said his daughter lives in a “ pleasant” Lexington apartment, which has an unoccupied bedroom that is furnished with all of Zachary’s favorite things; “but there is no Zachary.”
Molly Altman said that Cabinet officials have told her that they are afraid she will get sick again and that because she has difficulty walking, she can’t care for her son. She doesn’t agree, saying the episode in 2017 was the first time she had ever been seriously ill while caring for Zachary.
Molly Altman has started a change.org page that she hopes will help bring her son home. On the page, she said she has a clean bill of health, but has only seen her son one time for an hour and a half since June 21, 2017.
“He is my best friend. He is my life. Everything I do, I do for him,” she said.