Barbara Ann Oxner is always looking for someone who might need help.
“I meet prospective clients in grocery stores, doctors’ offices, seminars, garage sales, bus trips, walking, at physical therapy,” she said.Oxner is a patient navigator in the UT Center for Health and Successful Living, where she has worked since 2016 thanks to a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Before that, she volunteered there for three years.
“I love my job. I identify women in northwest Ohio who need health education and medical services, specifically, mammograms. I look for women 40 and older who are high-risk with little or no insurance.
“For a long time, my motto has been, ‘helping people to help themselves.’ That’s exactly what a patient navigator does.”
Oxner does her job so well the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio last month presented her with one of its Healthcare Hero Awards, which recognize the contributions of health-care workers in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. There were 30 nominees; Oxner and five others received that distinction during a ceremony at the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion.
“I don’t see myself as anyone special,” she said. “Being nominated was an unbelievable honor. Being recognized as a winner and named a Healthcare Hero? Wow — just wow!”
“Barb is an inspiration to everyone she interacts with,” said Dr. Amy Thompson, professor of public health and co-director of the Center for Health and Successful Living. “She tirelessly works to help those in most need receive education, screening and care during the cancer survivor journey.”
It’s a journey Oxner started in 1985.
“I was a 38-year-old registered nurse with two children when, two weeks before my daughter’s high school graduation, I discovered a lump in my breast during a self-exam,” she recalled.
Three doctors confirmed the diagnosis: breast cancer.
“I had surgery and no chemotherapy and no radiation. My help came from God,” Oxner said.
But five years later, Oxner received devastating news: She had multiple myeloma.
“I was given six months to live,” she said. “I was at death’s door — but God was at my door, and He kept me; He healed me. My oncologist said I was a miracle, and I am.”
Her faith and determination are uplifting and contagious, and she shares both.At the Center for Health and Successful Living, Oxner is the community outreach coordinator for the African-American Women’s Cancer Support Group. And she and Lorraine Willoughby started the Pink Sneakers Program, which brings together cancer survivors, friends and loved ones to walk three times a week.
“These and other programs not only educate our ladies, but provide opportunities to socialize and enjoy fellowship,” she said. “As a 32-year breast cancer survivor and a 27-year multiple myeloma survivor, I strive to be of comfort to others as I, too, have been comforted on this continual journey.
“The support group and Pink Sneakers are priceless opportunities to celebrate survivorship and allow new survivors to see they, too, can achieve longevity one step at a time.”
“As a patient navigator who connects adults to needed services, Barb is committed, reliable, persistent and talented,” said Dr. Timothy Jordan, professor of public health and co-director of the Center for Health and Successful Living. “She combines her knowledge and talent with genuine concern and love for people. Clients sense that Barb truly cares for them — above and beyond their health needs. That is why they respond to her so positively. This is Barb’s secret to success. It is rare to see such an effective combination of knowledge, skill and love for people.”
“The best part of my job is when clients receive the care they need. It is hearing patients’ stories. It is seeing hopelessness turn to hopefulness. It is watching others become proactive in their own health care when the tools they need are provided,” Oxner said.
“The Center for Health and Successful Living strives to do this. I’m grateful to God for allowing me to meet Dr. Thompson and Dr. Jordan; I am thankful for the opportunity to serve others.”