Now comes the happy ending - with a few conditions.
Maziah Mills-Sorrells, 4, of West Philadelphia, has lived with the lifeless dangle of a paralyzed left arm since she was injured during childbirth.
Her impoverished mother and father, who work minimum-wage jobs in fast-food restaurants, have fought for years to cope with the hardship.
First, they sued the hospital where they claim Maziah was hurt. That litigation is ongoing.
Then, they began a sapping three-year campaign to wrest child-disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, only to have their application denied by the federal agency three times.
The Inquirer wrote about Maziah in 2013, and detailed the struggles of Essie Mills, 27, and Raashid Sorrells, 26, on behalf of their daughter, a spirited girl growing up frustrated by her inability to use her arm, dress herself, maintain her balance, and keep up with other kids.
Pressed by need and propelled by parental indignation, Mills and Sorrells kept up the fight, aided by Philadelphia's Community Legal Services, lawyers who help the poor.
Most people without means give up after multiple setbacks, said Jonathan Stein, one of Maziah's CLS attorneys. But Maziah's parents, with a combined take-home pay of less than $12,000 from Wendy's and Burger King, stood firm.
"We had each other, and never gave up," Mills said. "We always had hope."
Finally, in 2014, after CLS filed a second application on the family's behalf, the Social Security Administration relented without explanation and allowed Social Security Income (SSI) disability payments to flow to Maziah.
Last year, a Philadelphia federal judge gaveled more good news for the family, reversing a ruling on the first application that had been denied.
Not only did U.S. District Judge Juan Sanchez order monthly SSI payments be made to Maziah, he also compelled the Social Security Administration to make the payments retroactive to 2011, the year the first application was filed.
The retroactive package alone is worth $17,000.
But while the monthly SSI check of $657 is coming in to the family, the retroactive cash payments are delayed. A spokesman for the Social Security Administration would not comment on any aspect of Maziah's case.
"We're still waiting for the money," Mills said. "We're always waiting."
Late for Maziah's prekindergarten class, Mills poured cereal into a snack cup while Sorrells tended to Mahogany, the couple's second daughter, 6 months old.
"I want to paint," Maziah announced, ready to create a masterpiece suitable for display on the refrigerator.
The third-floor apartment at 63rd Street and Lansdowne Avenue is just two rooms, so the bedroom serves as dining room, living room, and bedroom for all four family members.
Money is as tight as the living quarters. Even with the parents' salaries, along with the SSI payments and the value of the family's monthly allotment of $385 in food stamps (now called SNAP benefits), overall family income is around $24,000, exactly the poverty line for a family of four.
Medicaid pays for Maziah's medical bills, including a past surgery that could not improve her condition. But children with disabilities cost their families from $6,000 to $20,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses beyond medical costs, experts say.
These include co-pays, supplemental therapies, and child care so parents can work, said Thomas Sutton, a Philadelphia lawyer who handles SSI cases, and a past president of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, a nonprofit that represents attorneys.
Maziah's case, well-known among attorneys, is an important one, Sutton said. "Rulings like Sanchez's don't happen that often," he added.
In the apartment, Maziah scooted around unheeding as Mills commanded, "Maziah, let's put on your jacket."
Settling her daughter, Mills added, "Her tantrums get worse as she gets older. She wants to be like her cousins who play with toys with two hands."
Sorrells concurred: "We bought her a bike, but we need the proper Velcro straps to hold her arm up. And eating chicken wings? She just can't do that."
Mills worries about explaining Maziah's condition, known as Klumpke's palsy or paralysis, to the child when she's older.
"I have to tell her the nerves in her arm are damaged from when they forcefully pulled her out of the birth canal, and she'll never feel anything from her elbow to her hand," Mills said. "Her arm will always dangle."
Still, Mills said, things could have been much worse without the federal dollars.
Ironically, SSI has a reputation among some conservative critics as easy to game.
Not true, says Paul Van de Water, senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. About 66 percent of applicants are turned down.
Stein of CLS has a theory why the Social Security Administration changed its position on Maziah irrespective of Sanchez's ruling: "It was the visibility of her case, including the Inquirer story, that showed a light on the arbitrariness of the original denial."
For whatever reason, the Mills-Sorrells family now has breathing room in a too-often airless life.
They still live in poverty with a disabled child. But with money coming in, survival is somewhat easier.
And while Maziah has her tough moments, Sorrells said, smiling, "You cannot take away her joy."