A home for M.J.
Morgan County Habitat builds home for Crestline student, aunt
M.J. Stitts was 2 months old when he underwent his first surgery.
M.J. has congenital myasthenia gravis – a disease that is characterized by weakness and rapid fatigue of any of the muscles under voluntary control. It’s caused by a breakdown in the normal communication between nerves and muscles. There is no cure. The 7-year-old also has scoliosis – a disease that forces him to use a wheelchair for large parts of the day.
Muajani Stitts, M.J.’s aunt, is his legal guardian and caretaker. Stitts celebrated six years of having full custody of her nephew April 1.
“When he was born, they didn’t know what was wrong,” she said. “One official diagnosis was failure to thrive, but when he was just a few months old, they discovered his lungs had collapsed. That’s when they decided to go with the trach … When you have a child who is on a vent, caregivers have to take classes and undergo a home study.”
Through that process, the hospital and DHR recommended that Muajani, who works as a certified nursing assistant, be M.J.’s caretaker – something she said she never saw herself doing. “I worked a lot, and I didn’t have any babies, so I was like ‘No, that’s not for me,’” she said.
When the choice came down to M.J. coming home with her or going into the foster care system, however, Muajani said it was an easy decision. “He’s family, and we take care of family,” she said. She brought M.J. home a week after his first birthday. “I’ve had him ever since,” she said. “It was a struggle at first. It was different at the hospital, when you can call for a nurse, but it got real when he came home.”
Aside from her full-time caretaker duties, Muajani works 12-16 hour shifts in the healthcare industry. A team of home-health nurses visit throughout the week to help with the care of M.J.
Muajani said that bringing her nephew home and taking on his care was life changing for her, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Now, the pair will embark on a new journey together.
A few months ago, Muajani received word that she and M.J. had been chosen as recipients of Habitat for Humanity of Morgan County’s 92nd newly-constructed home. The three-bedroom, two–bath house, which is now well on its way, will be handicap-accessible in every aspect.
“The hall bathroom has a walk-in shower to make it easier, and every door is 3 feet wide,” Muajani said. “It will be more space and more peace of mind – we’re very excited. And it’ll be something that belongs to us, so it’ll be home.”
She said one of M.J.’s favorite things to do is visit the house to see its progress. “I come up here and work on it, but I didn’t know his nurses were bringing him a few times a week,” Muajani said. “He loves to come see the house.”
Although construction has been slowed because of the threat of coronavirus, the house is scheduled to be move-in ready by the first week in June. The pair currently live in an apartment that will occasionally flood and has issues with mold – a problem that exacerbates M.J.’s health conditions. The goal of the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity is to build affordable housing for those who need it.
“Future Habitat homeowners work alongside volunteers, putting in their ‘sweat equity’ hours as they build their houses as well as those of other families in our program,” Habitat’s website explains. “Each house is sold with an affordable, no-interest mortgage. Those mortgage payments come back to Habitat for Humanity of Morgan County to build additional houses for other families in our community.
“Habitat homeowners achieve the strength, stability and independence they need to build a better life for themselves and their families.”
Along with the “sweat equity” future homeowners put in, they also take classes pertaining to homeownership and managing a budget.
M.J. said he’s excited to move into his new home and have a room all to himself. A second-grade student at Crestline Elementary School, MJ’s favorite subject in school is science, and he said he wants to decorate his new room with glow-in-the-dark stars and planets.