Sometimes, it takes a village.
That’s what Tina Oxendine found out when she sought help for her best friend – someone she grew up with and refers to as her sister – YoLanda Whitted. It took time and help from three different organizations, but Oxendine was finally successful in rallying the local community around Whitted.
Whitted was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2013. MS is an untreatable disorder that attacks a human’s central nervous system, targeting the myelins and deteriorating nerves, ultimately affecting the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. Whitted is just forty years old, and though diagnosed three years ago, she can trace back the origins of the disease to her mid-twenties.
“This is my best friend. She’s my sister,” Oxendine said. The two met in the sixth grade at A.L. Stanback Middle School. “When she got diagnosed I think I was more upset than she was… she’s a woman of God, while I’m more spiritual, so she had enough faith for the both of us. Her reassuring me that God was going to take care of her was assurance enough for me.”
Though it manifests itself in different ways with different people, Whitted battles with many side effects of MS, including an intense sensitivity to heat.
Compounding matters was that this year her air conditioning unit was beginning to fail, and it was so warm in her house that it began affecting her motor skills, and she had to resort to using a cane to get around.
Oxendine saw this as an opportunity to regain some of the control she and Whitted had lost when the MS diagnosis was made, and she sprang into action. She had heard of a local organization called HealthBeMe, founded and run by Jason Dragos, as they helped a woman named Tina Turner and her son with a heart transplant.
“I was following [HealthBeMe’s] social media and [Dragos] posted about nominating a hero, and I nominated my sister,” Oxendine said.
This was a necessary step, because even though things were getting increasingly difficult for Whitted without a functioning A/C unit, she wasn’t going to be asking for help any time soon.
“She probably knew I would never ask for it,” Whitted said.
“I’ve offered before, and she kind of blew me off,” Oxendine said. “She’s too proud for that sort of thing.”
Dragos received Oxendine’s nomination and began looking into what could be done. For him, it was putting himself in Whitted’s shoes that moved this operation to the top of his list.
“When she got in touch with me, [Oxendine] said Yolanda has MS and if you don’t know, living with MS without A/C is like torture,” Dragos said. “Your body can’t regulate temperature very well, and it feels like your body is melting.”
So Dragos sprang into action himself and did what his organization does best – he networked his way toward finding companies who would be willing to help.
“HealthBeMe’s vision is to humanize healthcare,” Dragos said. “We do that by building community around people to help each live healthier and happier lives… healthcare does not see a broken A/C unit as a problem, but we do. Healthcare only treats diseases, while HealthBeMe treats people with care. When this nomination came through… I started looking around to find [a company] who would help out.”
Initially, Dragos received very little response, which disappointed him. Then, he got in touch with Trane, an international heating and A/C company with offices in Raleigh, where HealthBeMe is also located.
“I contacted Trane and they were pretty amazing,” Dragos said. “It moved pretty fast from there.”
Specifically, Dragos got in touch with Jason Wilson, a territory manager at Trane who used to work for the Hillsborough-based Warren Hay Mechanical Mechanical Contractors. Wilson said that Trane could supply the unit, and he worked his connections at Warren Hay in order to have somebody who would install it.
Warren Hay was more than happy to oblige.
“The only thing we knew when we agreed to it, was we could supply the labor and materials for the job,” Warren Hay corporate secretary Jennifer Warren said. “We are always glad to do things like that for people in our community. We have consistently worked with organizations like Habitat [for Humanity], and this was just another aspect of that.”
All of this was happening unbeknownst to Whitted, who might have suspected something only because Oxendine kept asking her so many questions.
“I was like, ‘why do you keep asking me about my A/C unit?’” Whitted said, laughing at the thought of it now. Days later, she had a brand new A/C unit attached to her house.
For Dragos and HealthBeMe, this was another victory over the often impersonal healthcare system.
“Healthcare as an industry doesn’t always consider everything that is going on in someone’s life,” Dragos said. “When you aren’t getting what you need, it’s amazing to see what can happen when your community steps up.”
Warren sees it as a special story that speaks to how strong a community Hillsborough, and the greater Triangle area, can be.
“It just shows how awesome it is to live here. So many people are moving to this area… all these people know about our restaurants and how the downtown looks, but what they don’t know is how amazing the people who live here are,” Warren said. “It just really is, it’s a great community, these people really care about each other.”
For Oxendine and Whitted, it was an amazing shared experience that restored normalcy to their lives so that they could move on and focus on the bigger picture.
“What’s next?” Whitted echoed when asked the same question. “We are working on fundraising for our MS walk, which happens annually each April in Raleigh.”
Whitted now rallies around organizations that help others with MS, knowing that the disease hasn’t taken away her ability to do that yet. The MS walk raises awareness and funds for the disease that currently has no cure.
“I’m paying it forward, I guess you could say,” Whitted said. “Because sometime I’ll probably be on the other side.”
You can find our more information about HealthBeMe at http://www.healthbe.me/, and more information on Tina and YoLanda’s MS walk team, NoLimitCrew, at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Walk/NCTWalkEvents?px=12747408&pg=personal&fr_id=27189.
HealthBeMe is currently working with members of the MS and Cystic Fibrosis community. They are looking for more Health Heroes. To nominate one, as Tina did for YoLanda, click here.