Ashley Tew Wilkerson was on a trip to Florida with the man she later married when she began feeling the tingling in her legs.
At first, she thought her legs had fallen asleep from the car ride, even though they’d only been traveling an hour and a half when the symptoms began. By the time they reached their hotel, the numbness was up to her waist, and Wilkerson was terrified. After several doctor visits, Wilkerson finally received her diagnosis at Spartanburg Regional Hospital in South Carolina, where she worked as a nurse. At the age of 24, Wilkerson had multiple sclerosis.
Thankfully, her employer offered a basic disability plan that would pay 40 percent of her salary. However, a year earlier, Wilkerson had the opportunity to purchase a plan that would pay 50 percent of her salary, and would only cost her an extra $2 per paycheck. She declined the coverage because she didn’t think she’d need it.
Wilkerson is undergoing continuing treatment for her multiple sclerosis and has secured a position, using her nursing degree, that isn’t as physically demanding as her prior job. She frequently speaks on the need for disability coverage, and ASJ spoke with her to find out what she thinks today about DI, and what might have helped move her to purchase more coverage in the first place.
ASJ: Once you were diagnosed, were you immediately worried about your paycheck, or was there a period of time before that aspect of your condition sank in?
ATW: Well, it was like, number one, is this going to go away? Because at that point, I could barely get to the bathroom myself, let alone be at work for a 14-hour shift. Most people who have MS, they have it for a couple of days; sometimes, it lasts a couple of weeks. I kept waiting for mine to go away, but it hasn’t. I still have the exact same symptoms as before. That’s not typical, but I have a lesion on my spine rather than my brain, so that’s why mine is more severe.
ASJ: What was going through your head at the time you heard about the extra coverage you could purchase? Why did you not act on this offer?
ATW: I probably thought I’d never need it, so why waste that money? I think I was 23 when I started there full time, and I didn’t think I’d need it. I figured maybe I’d get it later.
ASJ: The disability coverage you did have through your employer, though, how did that help?
ATW: They gave me 40 percent of my salary, and that’s something, at least. It’s actually a pretty good chunk of money considering the hospital is paying for it — most employers don’t give employees that kind of coverage for nothing. Do I wish I’d bought the extra? Of course, but what they had given me helped a lot.
ASJ: Now, obviously, the DI helped you make ends meet when you weren’t able to work as a nurse any longer — can you talk about some of the other benefits of having this coverage?
ATW: My only job interview ever was to be a nurse, and they basically ask you if you have your license and you show it to them and that’s it. I didn’t really have any interview skills, but through the disability plan through Cigna, they have a program where they help with things like interviewing skills. They helped me look for jobs and figure out what might be possible for me. And I’m still using my nursing degree, so that’s great.
ASJ: Having been through this experience, do you feel that DI is for everybody?
ATW: Oh, definitely. If I had to talk to a 23-year-old sitting in this room, I’d say that $2 per paycheck isn’t really that much, and it’s so much better to have it in case you need it. Hopefully, you never have to use it, but if you need it, it could mean the difference between paying the power bill that month.
ASJ: You’ve done some speaking on this topic — what moved you to take that role, instead of just continuing on with your personal life?
ATW: The Cigna Return-to-Work program called me to see if I would be willing to talk with somebody and they would write a little article about it — no big deal. So I said, “If one person reads it and thinks twice about it, then maybe I would help somebody else.” The LIFE Foundation found me through that, and that was how I was awarded the trip to California and how I got to speak there.
ASJ: For our readers who are involved in selling insurance but may not sell DI, what would you tell them about its importance?
ATW: It’s a definite need for people, especially those who have any sort of illness, as much as it costs to go to the doctor’s office or the hospital or whatever — I think it was over $500 a month just for me to have insurance while I was out on disability. Most people don’t keep that money around, so us having to pay that on top of the rent and the car payment and everything was difficult. [DI is] very important, because [a disability is] always a possibility for anybody.
ASJ: Knowing how you were approached about extra DI coverage back when you were 23, is there anything that you feel may have worked a little better toward convincing you to purchase this coverage?
ATW: Honestly, with the LIFE Foundation, they made a video of me and then they made ones of others for different insurance, and seeing somebody’s story really helped. For example, the other people in the videos had a spouse die, but they had life insurance, and I went out and got extra life insurance because of that. It’s also a little different because I have a medical condition, so if something were to happen to my husband, it would be hard without that income, but actually seeing a real person and seeing the problems they went through and seeing how the insurance helped them, I think it would have really made a difference.
Christina Pellett is the editor of the Agent’s Sales Journal. She can be reached at [email protected] or 800-933-9449 ext. 226.You can find Ashley Tew Wilkerson’s realLIFEstory DVD — and other stories — at www.lifehappens.org/catalog.