Amanda Wells: The Greatest Difference
by Daniel Lowry
She held her sister’s baby in her arms and stared into her eyes. They were blue and bright, and on the back of her tiny head was a clump of soft, shiny, dark hair. Amanda Wells kissed her new niece and called her “O” — short for Oliviah. But Amanda knew the terrible truth that little O couldn’t possibly understand: She had been born with a life-threatening defect.
After O was born, Amanda’s sister moved in with her for some help during a difficult time. Little O had hydrocephalus, a condition where there is an accumulation of fluid within the brain. She also had epilepsy, another brain disorder. She would never develop like most children.
Amanda worked for an insurance company, but things began to get difficult for her job, too. She was paid on commission only, and when her supervisor left work for a pregnancy, Amanda had to start doing other office duties that didn’t pay commission. That drained time from her sales and her regular income.
“It was a bad situation,” she says. Amanda struggled for months with the difficult decision about what to do. She knew things were getting bleak at the company, and she wanted to make sure she could have a solid income. “It was either to be unhappy and struggle or completely give up and start over with something else.”
Every day after work, Amanda would help take care of little O. At night, she and her sister slept near the little baby, and they would listen to make sure she was breathing. Eventually, doctors helped them with the decision to go with palliative care, which meant they could treat the symptoms but never be able to fix the problems. The doctors told them that O’s time on earth would be short, and she would be better off just being at home instead of the hospital.
At times, O would stop breathing and her little heart would quit beating. But, somehow, her chest would heave, she’d catch her breath, and she’d come fighting back. That happened on and off for about a week.
Then, one early morning in August, Amanda woke up around 7 o’clock, just as the sun, still big and orange and low, was peeking over the treetops in Mason County. She and her sister both held their hands on O’s heart, and they knew she had drifted away. At 18 months old, she was gone.
The grief came like a tidal wave. They knew it was coming; they braced for it, but never realized just how hard it would hit them.
“We had talked about it, and we thought we were prepared and ready,” says Amanda. When it happened, you have no idea how not ready you can ever be for something like that.”
Weeks passed, and something clicked for Amanda. She saw the writing on the wall for the company where she worked, and she felt like selling insurance wasn’t for her.
“I was like, you know what, I really feel like this isn’t where my heart is, and it’s not where I should be, and so that’s when I said I think I should be taking care of people.”
Taking care of O and being with her sister through the hardest time of her life showed Amanda that she could help people.
“That changed my perception on whether or not I could take care of people,” says Amanda. “Actually, it made me feel more like this is what I should be doing.”
In January of 2016, Amanda enrolled at Maysville Community and Technical College and got into the nursing program. She will be a nurse by May of 2018, and, thanks to a program with MCTC, she will be a registered nurse by May of 2019.
“I love it,” she says.
She’s not only learning at MCTC, she’s making money, too, as a tutor in Student Support Services. She helps other students with various subjects, including English, reading, computers, biology, business management, nursing and more.
“A lot of people feel completely dejected,” she says. “The biggest problem isn’t that they can’t grasp the materials, it’s that nobody has ever shown them how to study.”
“Amanda is amazing,” says Kathy Reed, Director of Student Support Services at MCTC. “She helps students all day. If she’s working with a student on something, they’ll get it. Many of them just need a little assistance becoming familiar with the material, and she makes it easy.”
Brenda Clark is one student who has benefited from Amanda’s guidance. “She’s very, very, very helpful,” she says with a wide grin. Brenda came to MCTC to start a new life after 29 years of working in factories. “I’d come home and my neck and shoulder would be killing me.”
Now Brenda is on track to become a nurse, too. She’s thankful that MCTC has people like Amanda around to help. “She always takes time to help me understand things. She talks it out.”
Amanda enjoys being able to be a tutor at MCTC. “It makes me feel like I can make a difference for someone.”
With her choice to start a life of helping others, at first Amanda didn’t realize how powerful her impact could be. But the greatest difference of all, perhaps, just might be the one she made for herself.