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Sunday, January 8, 2012

From Real Life: A Heroine

Missy was the sort of woman I really wanted to hate. After all, she’d landed the position I’d applied for at work. She was a brand new graduate, about 25 years old, with a new baby and an uber-macho fire-fighter husband in tow. And her looks...wide brown eyes, bee-stung lips and long, velvety brown hair. I wound up in a position subordinate to her and had to listen to her endlessly cheerful gossip every day at lunch. Damn, it was hard not to like her!

And yes, she was a gossip. She shared fun gossip, malicious gossip and mundane gossip. She had a wild sense of humor and a solid sense of personal ethics. She had her ups and downs in her job and in time, I was incredibly grateful that I didn’t get the position. Turned out her boss was a nightmare and the position itself was pretty miserable. Eventually, I was promoted and sent to an early brain development program and didn’t see her for quite some time.

After a year or so, I was transferred to another position; one I didn’t want. This one was in preschool fitness and nutrition. I’d loved working in most of my positions within Public Health but this one didn’t hold much promise. Aside from working directly with preschoolers and their parents, I was assigned to work closely with Missy. While I liked her, I wasn't quite prepared to work with her full-time.

Turns out we got along great. By this time, the shine had rubbed off the department for both of us. She’d been labeled a gossip and troublemaker. I’d sent up red flags when the department had briefly placed me in a position at Children's Protective Services, in a building infected with toxic black mold. I had the nerve to go to the doctor to have the mold levels in my blood checked. (they were high, and I'm allergic to black mold) As a result, management monitored us both as troublemakers. Our contacts with other staff members were limited, we were “discouraged” from taking breaks with others. Needless to say, this was a terribly hostile work environment.

We wound up traveling to jobs together, taking breaks and lunches together and generally getting pretty close. She was pregnant with her second child, and to my horror, management requested that she work right up until her due date. When she came to work cramping and sick at the beginning of her 9th month, our supervisor and manager pressured her to do a preschool visit. Instead, I covered for her while she visited her doctor. She was in trouble with her pregnancy and spent her final weeks at home resting. I missed her greatly during the months that she was away.

When she returned to work, she had another worry. Her best friend was sick. I’d known about this from the start, but now the woman was dying of kidney failure. Missy agonized over her friend’s illness; no compatible kidney donor could be found and the woman’s family refused to test. One day we were talking and Missy said that if she could do it, she’d donate her own kidney. Clearly, she meant it because she went in and tested. She was not 100% compatible, but was close enough to give the doctors some hope.

Everyone tried to talk her out of it. Work was not supportive at all; they threw up every roadblock they could. Her husband backed her. I backed her. That was pretty much it. As her friend grew progressively closer to death, Missy made arrangements to donate to her best friend.

The surgery was a success. Within days, her friend’s health turned around completely. Within a year, the woman had married her boyfriend and was pregnant. Missy saved the life of her best friend. She gave her a future.

And at work, they gave Missy hell. She was scrutinized, lectured and pressured on a daily basis. The department had fallen on hard times due to the state budget, and clearly, they were headhunting...just not in a good way. Missy was at the top of their list. In spite of physical fatigue and the constant pressure, she kept on and bore the pressure gracefully.

Somehow, the story Missy’s donation to her friend reached the local press and their story appeared in the paper. At work, they planned to fire her for taking the time away for the surgery. Suddenly, the Department had a bona fide heroine on their hands. To no one's surprise the disciplinary action never materialized. After I finally quit, she continued with the department as she had a third child, and then returned to college part-time, earning her teaching credential.

My friend did something that was amazing. Heroic. She put her own life on the line for that of her friend. She risked her job on the line and she strained relations with her family and friends. She did this out of love but also because to her, it was the right thing to do. She had to do it. Missy is not a perfect person. But in her way, she’s larger than life. So yeah, she gossips a bit too much, but heck, she saved a life. She inspired me to change the donor status on my driver’s license and to go to the local blood center to sign up as a platelet and marrow donor. And I know darn well I’ve made a difference. And if it hadn’t been for Missy, I might never have made that commitment. If not for Missy, a young mother would have died tragically young.

She is a heroine worthy of her own story.

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