Utter helplessness. That’s what Janey Russell felt as she watched her daughter, Meg, sleeping in the hospital room.
Without warning, the 10-year-old had become severely ill on Christmas day last year at her family’s Oro Valley home. She was rushed to Diamond Children’s Medical Center, where she spent six days in the intensive care unit while baffled doctors tried to identify Meg’s problem.
Her heartbeat was fast, she had a fever that could not be reduced, and a neck gland that had swelled at an alarming rate.
That week –what Russell called “the darkest time of my life”–would forever change the way she viewed the world, and her role in it.
It would lead to her winning a national contest that celebrated inner beauty and establishing a nonprofit organization that brightens the lives of people in dark situations.
But, 11 months earlier, Russell didn’t have time to think that far into the future. Even while spending her 40th birthday, on Dec. 26, in the ICU, she was still focusing all her energy on one goal – getting Meg well.
During the quiet moments, her mind raced about other things.
“I had plenty of time to think about life and question what was important. I stared at my daughter for hours on end, wishing it were me lying there,” Russell recalled.
Nine days after being admitted into the hospital, “mysterious Meg” became “miracle Meg,” the grateful mother of two said, adding she was inspired by her daughter’s positive attitude.
Russell felt reborn. She felt a new appreciation for life, her family and friends, and doing so made her feel empowered.
Exactly one week after Meg returned home, tragedy struck in Tucson when a man shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head and killed six people on Jan. 8 just outside Oro Valley.
“I had to do something, and so along with a friend, Marla Ayers, we created Shine On, Tucson,” Russell said.
She hopes to make Shine On (www.shineontucson.com) a network where local volunteers can find charities and people who need help.
Now a nonprofit, the organization takes its name from a signature gesture of Russell and Ayers while they were teachers at Sunshine Pre-School in Oro Valley. Rather than wave hello or goodbye, the women would wave their fingers and say, “Shine on.”
Establishing Shine On, Tucson gave Russell the courage to enter a contest she had read about a year earlier. More Magazine was accepting entries for its annual online beauty search.
She credits her friends and their online votes for getting her into the top 150 semi-finalists, and then the top 5.
She was one of four runners-up selected from among 1,400 women nationwide for taking the concept of beauty—inner and outer—and defining it on their own terms.
“Winning More has validated the power and strength I feel from within as a woman,” Russell said. “We can lose ourselves in being moms. Instead, we need to celebrate each other and push ourselves to be the best we can be.”
The doctors never did find out what prompted Meg’s illness last year. But, Russell recognizes it led her to a greater calling. It includes acknowledging a milestone most women choose to ignore.