Three Duke Energy employees have stepped forward to keep the electricity on for a terminal cancer patient already struggling with family tragedy.
“We may be a big corporation but our heart is the 30,000 employees that live and work in these communities,” said Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Layne. “You want to make sure everyone is treated fairly and equally.”
Lela Edwards, a determined 64-year-old patient suffering from a rare form of cancer, said she had first received a bill from Duke Energy informing her she owes the company $1,400 by Jan. 7 or it will cut off her power. Edwards said the charges are the electricity company’s mistake and she shouldn’t have to pay for its oversight.
Shortly before she received the $1,400 bill, a technician replaced an electric meter on her home on Turkey Ford Road near Dobson and explained the old meter had been broken.
“I asked and was told not to worry about this,” she said of the change in the electric meter that soon resulted in the higher bill. “Why should I pay for their mistake?” asked Edwards. “The next thing I know I received this killer bill. I don’t draw more than $700 a month so there is no way I can pay this. I’m a tough lady. I don’t want sympathy, but I do want to be treated right.”
Late last week after an article on her plight ran in The Mount Airy News, Edwards contacted Duke Energy Customer Service Manager Felix Delresario after the company urged her to call and see if an arrangement could be worked out. She said she couldn’t afford Delresario’s payment schedule offer. He asked her to wait a moment while he spoke to his supervisor.
Edwards said moments later he came back on the line and said three employees had stepped forward and would cover the bill. She was elated … until that Saturday. Edwards said an electric bill arrived in the mail and reported to her she owed the company more than $1,600.
Edwards said the anxiety over the amount sent her to Baptist Hospital over the weekend where her physicians increased the amount of her pain medications.
“It really hit me hard. I was thinking I wish they’d just leave me alone and I’d try to pay whatever even though I felt it was not my fault,” recalled Edwards. “If they spoke to me about local help with this, I’m not aware of it. I was just thinking they would leave this old woman alone. My plate is too full. They wanted me to pay a chunk of change and I asked them how can I pay a chunk?”
For Edwards, that bill was part of a series of setbacks and tragedies. The turn-off notices came on the heels of Edward’s sister, Pattie Maddox, who did many things for her, dying last week from the same rare form of cancer Edwards has. She has since found a full-time caregiver to assist other family members who remain to help her.
“I’ve outlived it (cancer). My sister-in-law (Juanita Edwards) didn’t have cancer more than three years before she died,” said Edwards. “I don’t know how long I have got, but I keep it upbeat. I’m trying to be tough.”
Edwards explained symptoms of her form of cancer are similar to leukemia. This type of cancer, known as multiple myeloma, affects plasma cells in bone marrow which produce blood cells.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, a total of three in 100,000 people are affected by it each year. Edwards’ physician is Dr. Kellie Flippin. Last Wednesday, the office confirmed there are no cures for this cancer and the officials there are trying to help Edwards just keep the disease under control.
Edwards said she also has lost a grandchild to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and her son, Emmett Potts, died from pneumonia when he was 3-months-old. She has helped raise two of her grandchildren, when their mother was convicted of drug-related charges, and then Edwards lost custody of them.
Layne explained what had occurred is the bill had been printed and sent out before Edwards’ conversation with Delresario. She said Duke Energy’s more than seven million bills are pre-printed and shipped out monthly. Tuesday, Edwards talked again with company representatives who ruled the comments of the customer service representatives are what counted and the three payments offered by employees would leave Edwards with a power bill of $145.
“We have a long tradition of helping like this in our company,” said Layne. “I was not surprised when we heard about them stepping up to help and are very pleased it worked out for her. We appreciate our customers and are glad this worked out this way.”
The welcome news from Duke Energy was a needed break for Edwards as she resolves to keep going to see her beloved grandchildren return home one day.
“I feel so relieved,” said Edwards. “I’m going to go out today and shop a little for my daughter who I look to be coming home from prison Jan. 21.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.