MANCHESTER – During a recent town council meeting, Whiting resident Karen Shepherd was honored with the Mayors Committee on Life Sciences Patient Courage Award for her strength in the face of adversity and her commitment to helping others.
Shepherd was nominated for the award by Manchester’s Director of Senior Services Brenda Sloan and Mayor Kenneth Palmer.
The Mayors Committee on Life Sciences is a joint effort of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities and We Work for Health New Jersey, which works to promote economic development and innovation, educate legislators, policymakers and the public about the importance of the life sciences industry to New Jersey’s local communities.
The award was presented by Dean Parnicas, President & CEO of HealthCare Institute of New Jersey and Co-Chair of We Work for Health New Jersey.
Shepherd, 76, is a 20-year cancer survivor who suffers from a chronic autoimmune disease called Myasthenia Gravis, which affects the body’s voluntary muscles such as the eyes, arms, legs and diaphragm – muscles used for talking and swallowing. It is rare, and only about 5 to 14 people in every 100,000 are diagnosed with the disease. Even with extensive treatment, which involves medications and a 5-hour infusion of plasma every other week, patients can be prone to flare-ups that can last hours, days or even weeks.
Despite the odds, Shepherd seems to have positive outlook on life. The mother of three, mother-in-law of two, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of one has been a volunteer Peer Leader with a Taking Care of Your Health program for the past six years.
“I have had the privilege to hopefully have a positive impact on the many people who have participated in this program. I have had people come into the first session unable to talk, in deep depression and totally introverted, then seen those same people after the six-week course to be the first to speak up, the first to help another participant and yes some have even become Peer Leaders themselves. I hope in some small way I was part of helping these people find their courage, find humor in their lives and love to live with their limitations as I do,” she said.
“My courage doesn’t trumpet or announce its presence for all to laud. It comes from facing adversity head on, it comes from being terrified of the unknown and it comes from others who look to me when they are terrified to help them find their courage.”