Volunteer Spotlight: How Carmen Cardwell Overcomes and Perseveres

Posted on March 6th, 2020

After suffering from a rare blood condition for six years, Carmen Cardwell was told she was at risk for losing her leg and, possibly, even her life. Hearing that she may only have five years to live in 2014, Carmen decided to use her remaining strength to better her community in any way she could. Surpassing the doctor’s once grim expectations, Carmen is now learning to overcome many health related hurdles while passionately volunteering as an advocate for our community’s neglected and abused children.

From 2008 to 2014, Carmen battled a string of seemingly unrelated health issues, including an unusual blood condition (CMV), a serious skin infection that severely damaged her right leg, and repeated bouts of Bronchitis. It was not until 2015, when she found herself in the hospital at her “crisis point,” that she discovered the underlying cause of her many illnesses, Lupus SLE.

Shortly after receiving her diagnosis and falling ill with a serious case of Mono, Carmen had lost the ability to speak, and was forced to painfully whisper or use hand gestures and marker boards when trying to communicate with others. These often unsuccessful forms of communication left her feeling powerless in terms of personal decision making.

While attempting to communicate with her husband via marker board one afternoon, Carmen saw a commercial for Child Advocates, calling for philanthropic individuals to help provide a voice for children in her community suffering abuse and neglect. In that moment, Carmen knew exactly what she had to do.

It was another year and a half before her health would permit her to apply to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children. After suffering for 18 months without the ability to speak for herself, Carmen couldn’t bear the thought of children similarly experiencing life without a voice knowing she could do something about it.

“I thought about all the times I wanted to be heard but decisions were taken out of my hands because I could not speak. I did not have the physical strength to make my wishes known.”

Knowing she would not be able to go back to work at her previous job due to a lack of mobility, yet still possessing the motivation to benefit her community, Carmen quickly came to the realization that she could now dedicate her time to using her newfound voice, advocating for youth in need.

“I couldn’t go back to work full time, but I HAD to do something and the more research I did, the more I knew that I could do this. I could help a child, even if it was only one at a time.”

Despite her concerns about her fragile voice hindering her service, Carmen fully committed herself to her new role as an advocate from the moment she completed her training. This unwavering passion continues to fuel her service to this day.

“There is a need, and sadly I believe there will always be a need. No matter how hard it is, I get up, pull myself together and think about all the children who STILL do not have someone to speak for them… and so I get out there and keep going.”

Carmen describes her service as a learning experience, never claiming to be infallible or to know everything there is to know about the child welfare system right off the bat.

“I make mistakes, I have missed things, but when I do, I learn from it and I try not to make the same mistake again.”

Carmen’s diagnosis of Lupus is a lifelong condition that can sporadically flare up without notice. Rather than allowing her fear of the unknown to impede her service, she focuses on the goal of assisting her community’s children in any way she can. Utilizing her open-mindedness, big heart and friendly disposition, Carmen pushes past any obstacles to advocate for the best interests of the children she has gotten the pleasure to serve.

With the overseeing of her doctor as well as the support of her supervising Guardian Ad Litem, Mary Beth Browne, Carmen has successfully served five children since 2017 and looks forward to serving more.

“Oh I’ll keep volunteering until my doctor tells me I can’t. If I stop, that’s at least one more child without a voice… and that’s one too many for me.”

Using her strength and her ability to so deeply care for the children of her community, Carmen plans to carry on advocating for our community’s most vulnerable children. In doing so, her once soft voice will continue to grow beyond measure, one child at a time.

If you or someone you know possesses a similar passion for giving a voice to the voiceless, please attend a volunteer info session at Child Advocates. Dates and times can be found here.