AP PHOTOS: For family of special-needs kids, special help

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SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts (AP) — It takes a strict routine and a lot of help to raise a family of special-needs children. Few know this better than Eric and Dennis Volz-Benoit, who have five.

Typical days involve feeding tubes, breathing treatments, medications and assembly-line showers, not to mention taking kids to school, making dinner and washing clothes.

"It's just kind of like a well-oiled machine," said Eric Volz-Benoit. "The key for us is routine. Everything is routine."

But routine only goes so far for the Springfield, Massachusetts couple and their children, Zachary, 8, who has epilepsy and cerebral palsy; Tyler, 7, who has brain damage and autism; Jayden, 5, who has post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline behavior problems; and biological siblings Ryan and Mandie, 7 and 6, who both have PTSD.

That's where the Collaborative Consultative Care Coordinator Program — known as 4C, and where Eric Volz-Benoit works as a nurse — comes in.

The program helps parents and pediatricians manage medically complex children. Families are paired with a team of helpers, including a nurse care coordinator and a social worker who can make home visits. A child's medical information is loaded into a central site, or "cloud," so any specialists needed to check or treat any given condition can get what they need quickly and easily.

The program is a partnership between Boston Medical Center and Bay State Medical Center, funded in September 2014 by a three-year, $6 million federal grant under the U.S. Affordable Care Act.

Zachary is the only one who qualifies for the coordinated care at 4C. He uses a wheelchair and requires a feeding tube and oxygen; early on after coming to live with the couple in 2008, he was frequently in and out of the hospital.

Volz-Benoit credits Zachary with helping him "grow up a lot" and become a father to his brood of special children.

"No matter how cruddy of a day I've had, all I have to do is come home and get a kiss and see that child," he said. "He balances my life. I can't imagine not having him around."


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