INDIANAPOLIS — After years fighting a rare disease, Shennea Dixon is living with her service dog in the garage of her childhood home — but not for long.
Construction on her own home begins this Friday, Sept. 17 in FOX59’s back parking lot during our 11th annual Greater Indy Habitat for Humanity build. We’ll introduce you to Dixon and the teams of volunteers as they work all morning to get the 1,400-square-foot home started.
We’re raising money for Habitat for Humanity all week with a goal of $20,000, and we’d love to have your help. Click here to make a donation supporting a fellow Hoosier’s homeownership goals.
Dixon was diagnosed at age 19 with von Hippel-Lindau (VHL), a rare disease that causes tumors throughout her body, including in her brain and spinal cord.
But rather than letting the disease serve as a constant setback, she decided it happened for a reason and instead used it to propel her life forward.
“I realized that the very thing that the ‘world’ views as something that should destroy a person was my catalyst to success,” she wrote in her Habitat for Humanity story.
Dixon was living in Alabama, having deferred a full-ride scholarship to Indiana University after high school to attend a ministry program, when the first tumors were discovered.
She flew back to Indiana for surgery to remove two massive, non-cancerous tumors on her right kidney and adrenal gland, then recovered and returned to Alabama to resume the “adult life” she was building, which included enrolling in school, finding a job, buying a car and getting her first apartment.
Six years later, in late 2014, she learned that a tumor on her spinal cord had grown. She needed surgery within months to avoid paralysis, so this time she packed up and returned to Indiana for good.
What was expected to be a six-month recovery is now moving into its sixth year. Dixon woke up from surgery paralyzed and had to relearn even the most basic tasks, from getting dressed to driving. She’s regained more walking ability than her doctors thought possible, but her body doesn’t function as it once did and she sometimes needs to use a wheelchair.
Despite all that, Dixon went on to get her business degree from IU. She forged a career that would be manageable with the unpredictability of her health, starting a non-medical home health care company.
She traveled through Thailand and Vietnam with just a backpack and wheelchair. She found a love of sports again, playing wheelchair basketball and tennis. And right now, she’s self-converting a small school bus into a traveling tiny house.
Having a permanent home through Habitat, as Dixon puts it, means truly conquering her new life and new level of ability. She’s facing another surgery to remove a spinal cord tumor, so she needs a home that is accessible even on her worst days and also affordable when she recovers with limited income.
Her goals for the future are big. She wants to build her business to the point where her mom can stop working. She plans to create a space for physical therapy in the new home, as well as a small workshop for painting, woodworking or fixing wheelchairs.
“I want the security of knowing that no matter what obstacles my health or life may bring, I know I have a place of my own that I can take refuge and always call home.”