Wylene Edwards’ life has been spinning out of control since the evening of Jan. 24. Achingly so, as constant and nagging headaches and other pain dog every waking minute.
Sadder yet is that the 59-year-old Akron woman did nothing to cause her world to change on a dime. And there’s helpless little she can do about it.
The saga began when Edwards was driving to a store less than two minutes away from her North Hill home, at 7:17 p.m. on the coldest day of the year.
The streets were blanketed with snow, she recalled.
She was approaching East Tallmadge Avenue on Elma Street when she saw two men walking in the middle of the road. In what she envisioned as a thoughtful effort to alert them, she flashed her high beams so they would move out of harm’s way.
They stepped aside all right. But they also fired shots at her car as she passed, striking her in the left shoulder.
“Just let me not panic and get to the stop sign,” Edwards said she was telling herself as she drove away from the shooters.
Feeling the pain and the blood running down her back, she managed to drive herself to the nearby Italian Center on Tallmadge Avenue, where staff and patrons at the Thursday night spaghetti dinner helped her inside and called for help.
The bullet — very close to an artery — remains lodged in her shoulder. Meanwhile her attackers are still at large. Police are hopeful someone will come forward with information to help provide justice for a woman who has always been law-abiding and hard-working.
The normally active Wylene Edwards is struggling every day, with the physical pain and also with the emotional scars — but also financially as she’s unable to work as a beautician and as a cafeteria aide for the Akron Public Schools, a job she had just started Jan. 15.
She’s leaning on her faith to cope with the depression and her sister Diane Ellesin, a stroke victim who’s trying to help with chores. “I can’t extend my arm or do any reaching,” Edwards said.
No health insurance
Edwards — who like so many other Americans can’t afford health insurance — was released from Summa’s Akron City Hospital after less than two days. She said the ER doctors told her the bullet in her shoulder couldn’t be removed. Her hope is that some surgeon somewhere will step forward to at least review her case and give a second opinion.
She’s being treated at OPEN M’s Free Medical Center on Princeton Street, where it’s always standing room only. “When we went to get the sling, the hallways were swamped with folks. Every seat was taken … But thank God for the Free Clinic and everything [medical director] Dr. Roger Chaffee is doing there. The doctors and the staff there [all volunteers] are great!” Edwards said.
“For the first three weeks after [the shooting] I was still in a state of disbelief, except for the pain and when I would look in the mirror and see the wound in the back of my shoulder … Now I’m angry because what happened to me has affected my ability to work and make a living.
“Oh, I’m grateful — very grateful — that I didn’t die or wasn’t permanently maimed … But I’m not able to work, not able to pay my bills.”
Helpless to do much else, Edwards is attempting to address her bouts with depression by attending a Women’s Support Group at OPEN M. Ironically, she was involved in the pilot project before the shooting.
Yet every other time the phone rings, it’s a bill collector wanting money she doesn’t have. “I got a call from a lady from AT&T, told her that I had been shot and the bullet is still in my shoulder and I can’t work … The lady sounded sympathetic, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve never heard anything like it.’ Then in the next breath asking, ‘So, when can we expect to get a payment?’ I was speechless!”
Faith helps guide her
Edwards described herself as strong in her faith, saying she studies her Bible “like I’m studying for my Ph.D.”
“I’ve always heard people say they believe in God. I’m here to tell you that I know Him now!” she said.
Even so, she’s worried about losing her home. “I love living here, working in the yard, playing with my flowers … I’ve been making [mortgage] payments for 17 years with 13 more to go on a 30-year mortgage. What happens if I’m never able to work again?
“The reason I was working two jobs at my age is that I was on a slippery [financial] slope already. But now it looks like I’m going over the fiscal cliff.”
The reality is that what happened to this grandmother could happen to anyone.
She’s looking into applying for Social Security disability benefits. “The paperwork is overwhelming,” she said, adding that she’s been told that it often takes a long time to get approved, even if you have a bullet near an artery in your shoulder.
Wylene Edwards, with her firsthand knowledge of how mean the streets can be, recently met scores of other victims of gun violence.
She was among 120 victims and survivors from around the country who were invited to the nation’s capital in February by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and first lady Michelle Obama (coinciding with the president’s State of the Union address) to share their personal experiences with gun violence.
“I had lunch with a girl whose brother was killed in Chardon. And a boy who was shot in the ear sat in front of me on the plane,” Edwards said.
“There were families from Newtown (Conn.) and other places. And I spoke to the father of the girl killed in Chicago.”
Unsure who picked up the tab for the trip, Edwards said she was encouraged to attend by local Victim Assistance advocates.
As horrible as her situation is, Edwards said it pales in comparison to what families who have lost their children to gun violence are going through.
Interested in giving her one less thing to keep her awake at night? A Wylene Edwards Benevolent Fund has been set up at FirstMerit Bank (any branch).
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or email@example.com