Bradenton couple’s health issues impact, Season of Sharing helps

Household budgets were already tight for Kelli and Robbin Whitehead before a fateful day two years ago when Kelli waded in the Gulf of Mexico off Cortez Beach on Anna Maria Island.

The next day, the Bradenton couple noticed a disturbing rash on the back of Kelli’s left thigh. He was quickly followed by blisters that ran up his leg, which started to turn purple. The Whiteheads traveled to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, where doctors determined that Kelli had contracted an aggressive flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis, usually caused by bacteria entering the body through cuts or cuts in the skin. .

Within a week, Kelli had to have her left leg amputated. On the verge of organ failure, she was quickly placed on a ventilator and dialysis.

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Over the next two years, the Whiteheads credit his doctors – especially Dr James Kotick – for saving his life.

“God saved my life, but their hands were anointed,” she said of the surgeons who treated her.

Kelli’s medical problems persist – she has had 29 surgeries and several skin grafts in her abdominal area after doctors had to cut infected parts of her stomach, and she fell twice using a walker, breaking three ribs and her right ankle – and the couple’s financial situation went from precarious to crisis.

Before the bacterial infection, the two made do by combining Kelli’s job as a restaurant hostess with Robbin’s disability checks, which he received due to severe heart disease that prevented him from returning. work as a bricklayer on commercial demolition projects.

“We were barely doing it,” said Robbin Whitehead.

But when Kelli was hospitalized, they lost her income. A few months later, she started collecting disability benefits – a total of $ 154 per month.

After paying $ 800 in rent and utilities, they were barely breaking even.

Their owner told them about Manatee County Turning points, which helps people at risk of homelessness.

Turning Points helped them pay their rent through federal grants, which alleviated a financial worry.

But this summer, Andy Guyre, director of the Turning Points housing program, realized time is running out for the couple’s federal rent assistance. There was no way the couple could pay the rent of $ 800 just with their disability income. With Kelli in a wheelchair and Robbin looking after her around the clock, he knew he had to find emergency accommodation, quickly.

“If I had waited for the deadline, they would have had to move out and live on the streets,” Guyre said. Most subsidized housing in the area has long waiting lists.

Then, at the end of July, Guyre heard about an apartment available in the new affordable housing complex in Lincoln Village. It complied with the Americans with Disability Act, which meant it was wheelchair accessible. And rent was almost half of Whiteheads’ day-to-day expenses: $ 410 a month. It was something the couple could afford on their own.

“It was a day when the stars just seemed to align,” Guyre said.

But there was a big problem. With the paperwork moving and everything falling into place, Robbin had to spend the last of their money moving out and some of the August rent on the new apartment. There was nothing left to pay the September rent.

And federal rent assistance could not be used for housing subsidized by the federal government.

Guyre told Robbin not to worry – Sharing season might help.

With $ 410 worth of Season of Sharing, the Whiteheads were able to pay September’s rent, secure the apartment, and get back on their feet.

“I could use this season of sharing for that rent to get them back to where they needed to be so that they were stable,” Guyre said. “They just needed this little bandage.”

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“Turning Points has blessed us like you wouldn’t believe,” said Kelli Whitehead.

Both are grateful to Guyre for his help and for Season of Sharing.

“I just think it’s beautiful,” Kelli Whitehead, 50, said of the new apartment from her power recliner in the living room, where she has plenty of room to recline the chair for pain relief. excruciating in her abdominal area. “We just love it. I have all the room I need now.

The living room – with high ceilings and lovely gray laminate flooring – has plenty of room for the sofa where Robbin Whitehead usually sleeps to be near Kelli if she is moving in the middle of the night. The wheelchair goes through the bedrooms and bathrooms and into her closet, where she can choose her clothes.

“We’ll still struggle, but not as bad,” Robbin Whitehead, 60, said of their finances.

“We paid for everything this month and we had a little bit left,” Kelli added.

Not a candidate for a prosthetic leg, she can no longer travel to clean and repair their house as she did before.

“I kept my house spotless. I kept everything spotless. I liked that everything had its place and was beautiful. I can’t do this anymore, ”she said. “But I don’t just sit there feeling sorry for myself. I must continue. “

Prayer anchors it, she said.

And Robbin?

“She’s praying for me,” he joked, before shaking his head, tears flooding his eyes as he looked down, adding softly about her constant worries, “I’m so tense, c ‘is unreal. “

The apartment has a backyard, where Robbin sometimes goes to clear his mind, he said.

But when the two of them are serious about relieving their stress, there is one place they will return: the beach.

The Whiteheads believe it was in the Gulf that Kelli caught the bacteria that led to his infection.

However, the calm of the water and the sand makes her retreat. She can’t get too close anymore. His doctors also forbid him to enter water bodies in order to protect his still healing wounds.

But every now and then, Robbin will pick her up in their vehicle and steer them down the roadway, toward the coast. They’ll park and gaze at the sea and sand, forgetting about bills and talking about pain medication and doctor visits.

How to help

Sharing season was created 21 years ago as part of a partnership between the Herald-Tribune and the Sarasota County Community Foundation to secure emergency funds for individuals and families on the verge of homelessness in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties. There are no administrative fees and no paperwork – every dollar donated goes to families in need to help with rent assistance, utility bills, child care and other expenses.

Donations to Season of Sharing can be made online at, or by sending a check (payable to the Sarasota County Community Foundation) payable to Attn. Season of Sharing, 2635 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, FL 34237. Contact the foundation at 941-955-3000 for more information or to request a credit card form. All donations are tax deductible.

This story comes from a partnership between the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Saundra Amrhein covers the Season of Sharing campaign, as well as housing, utilities, childcare and transportation issues in the region. She can be reached at [email protected]

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