Treasure in Jars of Clay
By Megan Jonas
Every weekend, Anne Wilcox gives herself an infusion of donated blood plasma to treat the immune disorder she's had since birth. She usually schedules the treatment for Saturday because it can cause dramatic fatigue over the next day, and the Whitworth assistant professor of education needs her energy to teach. The first thing Wilcox does as she sits at her kitchen table and begins the hourlong process is pray for the donors.
"Without the infusions, I wouldn't have the stamina to teach and I wouldn't have immune protection, so I'm always grateful for those who give blood plasma," she says. "They're giving me an opportunity to express my gifts and live a meaningful life."
At Whitworth, Wilcox's gifts are on full display. She is the director of the English Language Learner Endorsement program, and she has been recognized for her innovative work in intercultural education. She has also formed rich relationships with students, mentoring several who are dealing with their own health challenges.
"I can be empathetic to what they're going through but still provide some hope," she says. "When you have a chronic disability or illness and you speak to hope, it's more powerful because you know what the hard days are like."
Wilcox has experienced many hard days. For most of her life, she struggled with unexplained chronic infections. Constant illness prevented her from playing sports in her youth and forced her to take time off from college during both her undergraduate and graduate school years.
"My desire to pursue academics often got interrupted by the condition, without anyone really knowing what it was," Wilcox says. "The lack of a diagnosis was bewildering, and I blamed myself for not being strong enough to reach my dreams."
Finally, new research led doctors to diagnose Wilcox at age 41 with common variable immune deficiency. While a healthy immune system functions as an army against infection, Wilcox jokes that hers "acts as a 'welcome mat' for infections."
Even though she finally had answers, insurance refused to cover treatment for many years. That changed after she was hospitalized with double pneumonia in 2013, early during her career at Whitworth.
These days, with access to immune-boosting infusions called subcutaneous immunoglobulin replacement therapy, Wilcox rarely gets sick. Now in her 60s, she has surpassed the life expectancy she would have had without the treatment.