Old friends make new connections in Ashe County
“It’s wonderful how God works.” That’s Diane Dixon’s answer to how she became a FaithHealthNC Connector, someone who works with congregations in a movement that helps people receive support on their health journeys.
Dixon was a longtime diagnostic services technologist and imaging director at Ashe Memorial Hospital in Jefferson, N.C. Upon leaving her job there, she did some traveling work in ultrasound care, but gave that up to take care of an aunt who had Alzheimer’s disease. She later joined the Ashe Baptist Association doing community relationship work because her connections were so strong.
During that same period, her younger sister became ill with a tumor in her heart, and had surgery that caused a major stroke. Both her sister and her aunt died, and in May 2009, funds for the Ashe Baptist Association dried up and Dixon was laid off. In that same period, she learned that her husband, Michael, from whom she’d been estranged for months, had a large brain tumor.
A moment of clarity
Yet if there could be a blessing in all of those struggles, her husband’s illness provided one. Dixon says her moment of clarity came when talking with her husband’s surgeon.
“I said to him ‘I’m in a real bad place here; we’ve been separated. I need to know, were his behaviors, all this I’ve experienced, due to his tumor?’”
Although the surgeon couldn’t provide her with marital advice, he did tell her that tumors such as the one her husband had could indeed change one’s personality.
From that moment, Dixon found renewed purpose and mission in helping her husband battle through years of recovery as he continues to fight post-surgery health issues, including chemotherapy, infections and seizures.
All she experienced, Dixon says, provided strength and connected her more to God.
“It made me have to dig deeper into my spiritual work so I wouldn’t waiver. It sounds weird, but I had to totally rely on Him. I don’t want to say that I hadn’t relied on Him before, but I don’t think I knew what totally giving things up to Him was like.
“You realize it’s all in His hands anyway. I always thought I had to fix everything. One realization is it’s not my area to fix. Life in general is a journey He puts you on. Sometimes that journey’s really, really hard and the best you can do is remain faithful and allow Him to take care.”
A desire to help others
After surgery, her husband went on disability because he could no longer do his job with the N.C. Division of Employment Security helping find migrant farm workers employment in the community. That has meant financial struggles for the Dixons, who have relied on their savings and the help and support of family members, friends and, especially, the faith community.
The members of Midway Baptist Church in West Jefferson, Dixon says, “were huge prayer warriors.” Friendship Baptist Church brought in wood for the winter one year because the Dixons burn wood for heat. Laurel Knob Church bought the family an air conditioner because their home didn’t have one.
Dixon says the fact that she was unemployed in this period was “another miracle” because she was able to focus on helping her husband get better. She also began to use her health field expertise.
“I kept a notebook, my ‘go-to notebook’ with all of his medical information, lab results, doctors’ numbers, church and family members’ information.”
Dixon’s instinct and desire to help others fighting the same obstacles led her to volunteer. She began helping other cancer patients and their families, and she shared with them her notebook as an example of how they could keep track of the startling amount of information required during journeys in health care.
David Blackburn, director of missions for the Ashe Baptist Association, thought Dixon would be the perfect person to serve as a FaithHealth Connector when the program looked to expand in Ashe County earlier this year.
A grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem is helping to pay for FaithHealthNC’s expansion into 11 North Carolina counties. The money helps to train people such as Dixon to implement the FaithHealth program in their counties.
As a Connector, Dixon reaches out to congregations, businesses and other organizations in Ashe County, and sometimes beyond, to introduce them to FaithHealthNC and work with them as they become involved.
Now in the early stages, Dixon has a busy role. In addition to working as a Connector, she often finds herself in a caregiver role, helping patients and their families. Eventually, that will change thanks to the network of volunteer caregivers she is helping to grow and train.
Because Ashe County is both spread out and geographically challenged by segments in remote mountain areas, Dixon would like to have volunteers available everywhere. She says FaithHealthNC is off to a good start so far.
“It’s already spreading,” she says. “Doctors’ offices have been calling, saying ‘Hey, I have a family in need.’”
Photo: Diane Ashe, black dress, assists patient Maxine Shatley during a visit to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.