A woman looks up with a happy expression in front of a computer with glowing circles spread out in a connected web with symbols representing advocacy like a lightbulb, megaphone, heart, and pen.

My Journey in Becoming a Health Advocate

My journey as a health care advocate started years ago when I became a CNA (Certified Nurses Assistant)

I have always enjoyed helping others. As a teenager, I knew when I got older that I would love to be a nurse, but wasn’t sure if I was smart enough to go to college for it. I did terribly in school but didn’t know if I was really that bad or if it was just that I didn’t try hard enough.

After I had my first son and was looking for a good job that had good insurance, I heard our local County Nursing home was hiring and having CNA classes that we could do and get paid while we were taking the classes. This would help me to get my certificate. I figured it was a good start also if I did decide to go on to college for nursing.

I loved taking care of the residents

Some had visitors and others did not. I often wondered who who speak up for them when they could not. You could see how those who had family and visitors how much more they thrived than the ones who had no one. I always tried to give those without family a little extra attention, etc.

Over the years I had many jobs in nursing homes, private care, and hospitals and even one of my last jobs was working at the jail in the kitchen. We had trustees that would come help us in the kitchen. I noticed the same with the trustees. The ones who got visitors thrived and did better and the ones who didn’t seemed to get close to us cooks in the kitchen. They loved getting the attention and praise that they got from us and I felt a bit like a second mom or family member for them and helped them to see that there was good in life and they could still do good as well. I loved helping them as much as I loved helping the residents that I cared for in the nursing homes. I believe I was advocating in a way back then.

Getting diagnosed with COPD

In June of 2010, I was diagnosed with Alpha 1 and that is where my advocacy started shortly after that. For more information on Alpha 1 which is a genetic form of COPD, you can read my article here.

In the process of being diagnosed and trying to find out everything that I could about Alpha 1, I found out that they were holding an Alpha 1 Education day in August, not too far from me. I registered for the event to find out all I could about Alpha 1. This event was amazing! Everyone seemed to know each other. They were like 1 big, happy family. They all had introduced themselves to each other and there were many support group leaders there from different states. They were helping all the new attendees and getting us the information that we needed. I knew that day that I wanted to become a support group leader and help others as they had helped me since being diagnosed. I had a lot to learn because it was all new and so much information that I never thought that I’d retain to be able to help others.

Following that day I continued to learn more online and in different Facebook groups

I was learning more everyday and learning to advocate from these other advocates at the time. By the next year, I went to my first conference and support group leader training with my friend Deb whom I had met in these groups. We then formed the Illinois, Open Arms For Alpha 1 Support Group which eventually turned into our nonprofit where we started having fundraisers and helping other Alphas who needed emergency help with a med, medical devices, bills, etc.

I also love to help advocate on a few COPD and Alpha 1 Facebook Groups. I know when I was first learning that this was the place where we got the first-hand info from those just like us

In the meantime, I had been a part of The Social Health Network (formerly called WEGO Health) and they helped us with our t-shirts one year for one of our fundraisers and with other advocacy. I have also been a part of COPD.net read many of their articles and kept up with the latest on COPD. In February 2021, they asked me to come on and write articles and moderate for them and I have been doing so ever since.

Of course, WEGO and Health Union have now combined to become The Social Health Network and I am thankful and happy to be a part of them. I am also glad to be one of the first to take the Patient Leadership Certification course. I feel like this will help many of us who advocate the advantage to help others even more. I'm so happy to be a part of this forum.

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