Imagine having an illness your friends and neighbors can’t readily understand because it isn’t common, like arthritis — or visible, like a broken leg — or readily curable, like strep throat. You variously experience extreme fatigue, brain fog, and nausea. Your joints hurt, and you have difficulty breathing. In time, you can no longer perform your job; your illness is affecting your relationship with your spouse and children. You are barely 40.
Mandy Hadden, now 42, had been experiencing these symptoms for a long time, and was steadily losing ground, when a grant through the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions, the Presbytery of Wyoming, and the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, Jackson, Wyoming, put her on the path to recovery.
“I was just so sick,” Mandy said. The beloved preschool teacher had undergone batteries of tests and seen countless doctors, with little improvement. “This illness has been the trial of our lives,” said her husband, Kenny Hadden, who, at the time, was Worship and Music Director for the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole.
Because the suspected cause of Mandy’s symptoms was environmental — mold — the couple and their two little boys, now 4 and 6, moved several times, seeking a cleaner living space. Each time, they had to dispose of many of their belongings and buy new.
“This illness has been the trial of our lives.”
— Kenny Hadden
It took three years of medical sleuthing and considerable expense before Mandy and her husband knew the cause of the systemic inflammation that was undermining her health: She had a mold and biotoxin illness to which she was genetically vulnerable, tests showed, and she also had long-term, untreated Lyme disease.
Mandy was referred for treatment at a clinic, but the family could not afford to send her.
The physical effects of Mandy’s illness were bad enough, but her condition also was taking a growing emotional toll.
It snows a lot in Jackson, which causes water damage to buildings and outbreaks of mold. To avoid exposure, Mandy had to steer clear of many buildings in town, including most grocery stores and even the church. Although the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole is full of “kind and caring folks,” she said, many had a hard time understanding why, many a Sunday morning, Mandy sat outside by herself rather than inside the church with the congregation. “There’s a huge loneliness to this [illness],” she said.
Increasingly, the Haddens’ family life centered on Mandy’s illness. Their world was getting smaller, and as it did, the stress mounted.
The boys’ everyday activities could provoke Mandy’s symptoms. Like most young children, the Haddens’ older son liked to bring his paintings home from school to share with his parents. His dad had to display them outside, on the deck, rather than in the house, because mold feeds on cellulose, and books and papers are a health hazard to Mandy.
Each time the boys came home from school, they had to remove their clothes, even in winter, before entering the house. Otherwise, they could carry mold spores into the home their parents were desperately trying to keep clean.
The effect Mandy’s illness was having on the boys pained both parents. They finally had a diagnosis, but they just couldn’t afford the clinic treatment.
“We didn’t know what to do,” Kenny said. “We hit rock bottom.”
Although he tried to keep his family’s challenges private, the pastors at Kenny’s church recognized the Haddens were in crisis. They urged Kenny to contact the Presbytery of Wyoming for possible financial help. It gave him hope, but, even so, he hesitated.
“I don’t think anyone wants to ask for help,” he said. “It’s just such an emotional thing.”
Eventually, Kenny made the call and spoke to Wyoming General Presbyter Steve Shive, who immediately expressed a desire to help. Steve contacted the Board’s Assistance Program to explore whether help was available for Mandy’s stay at the clinic. It was.
Together, they put together a Shared Grant, paid for by the Assistance Program (50 percent), the presbytery (25 percent), and Kenny’s church (25 percent). Shared Grants are open to ministers and employees of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and PC(USA)-affiliated employers who are in urgent need of financial assistance, and to their spouses and surviving spouses.
“Rather than looking for ways to minimize how much financial support they give, the Board goes above and beyond, seeking additional ways they can help,” Kenny said.
“We are so grateful for their kindness, compassion, and generosity.”
“Now, I am able to become who God created me to be.”
— Mandy Hadden
After her three-week stay at the clinic, Mandy “came home restored,” Kenny said. “I am so thankful to have my wife back!”
Although Mandy still faces challenges, she feels like a new person — a whole person ― she said. “I’m joyful again,” she said. “For the first time in a long while I have the patience and energy to give to others.”
For health reasons, the Haddens decided to leave Jackson for the drier climate of Bend, Oregon. Kenny has a position teaching music at a school there, and they’ve found a healthy home to live in.
“I relied on God during my illness. Now, I am able to become who God created me to be,” Mandy said. “Because of the grant and the treatment it funded, I can now help others, especially our boys. For that, I will always be grateful to the Board of Pensions, the presbytery, and the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole.”
The Assistance Program provides a wide range of need-based grants to active and retired ministers, employees, and their families. Last year, the Assistance Program gave out 1,157 grants, for a total of $5.5 million. The Board’s careful stewardship of its resources makes possible grants like the one that made such a difference in the lives of the Hadden family.