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.