Desperate for help and fearful that David's condition would rapidly deteriorate without the watchful eye and skilled care of a nurse, the family turned to Medi-Cal. The state of California's program for the poor and disabled stepped in and has paid for 40 hours of nursing care a week ever since.
The Denneys have continued to pay their premiums, and Blue Cross has continued to cover the family, as well as most aspects of David's medical care, such as physician visits, prescription medications and hospitalizations.
The family said they were happy with the service and coverage Blue Cross provided -- including an expensive wheelchair specially adapted for David -- until they were denied the nursing care they believe is necessary to their son's well-being.
"That's why we got insurance," Gerald Denney said.
A rare disorder
David Denney was apparently healthy when he was born Sept. 1, 1994. A videotape around his first Christmas shows him holding up his head and smiling.
But within weeks, his body control deteriorated rapidly. He stopped nursing and cried nonstop.
After his parents took him to several specialists, a genetic test that took three months to complete determined that David had glutaric acidemia Type 1. The rare disorder allows harmful levels of amino acids to build up in the blood. It can cause seizures, brain damage, coma and death.
David still smiles. But he lost the ability to hold up his head and can't do anything for himself.
His mother believes he can signal "yes" by nudging her with his right arm and "no" with his left. But she's not sure.
To prevent David's muscles from atrophying, the nurse who has cared for him since he was 2 gives him regular exercise, moving his arms and legs, which alternate between rag-doll floppiness and stiff twitching.
David also has trouble swallowing, so even a trip to a doctor can become life-threatening. While his mother drives, his nurse rides in back with David, prepared to intervene if he chokes on his own saliva.
She also monitors David's frequent seizures, administering a cocktail of drugs in an effort to keep them at bay. If David is in a seizure for too long, paramedics must be called to administer oxygen and he must be given a Valium suppository to try to bring the seizure under control until they arrive.
"This is not something you'd want a baby sitter to do," Gerald Denney said as he rolled David's stiff body onto one side to dress him in a clean T-shirt after he threw up much of the evening's formula. "He needs a nurse."
The description of David's care is based on observations and interviews with the Denneys and David's nurse, as well as the lawsuit and exhibits filed with it, including doctors' evaluations and Blue Cross' letters to the Denneys. The company declined to discuss David's care and its view of the case with The Times even though his parents said they would sign a form waiving their privacy rights and giving Blue Cross permission to do so.
According to the suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Blue Cross approved a home nurse for David about a year after his diagnosis and confirmed that decision at least once a year.
For example, in a Jan. 24, 2003, letter attached as an exhibit to the Denneys' suit, Blue Cross told the family: