As we continue to support our company-wide United Way campaign, personal impact stories are surfacing and proving the impact United Way has on families across our communities. These stories include that of Sheila Melms, marketing information coordinator, Energy Waste Reduction.

Sheila’s father, Frederick Sullivan, was a member of our Public Affairs team for 35 years. And during the first year of Sheila’s career at our company, she and her dad carpooled to work and had lunch together in the G.O. cafeteria every day. 

Sheila had just celebrated her one-year anniversary at DTE when her dad was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at age 51.

“We had always been very close, but I did not realize how much I would cherish that year until he got sick,” said Sheila. “The diagnosis left our family devastated when the doctors said he would have anywhere from six weeks to three months to live.”

Frederick agreed to participate in a chemotherapy trial at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. Sheila’s parents packed up and moved into a room for the next several months, leaving Sheila’s mother with the tough decision to quit her full-time job. While Frederick had disability benefits through DTE, losing one job left the family reeling from the financial impact and uncertainty that resulted from her father’s diagnosis and treatment.

“Through the magic of miracles and advancement of experimental drugs, we were given 11 more months with my dad,” said Sheila.

While Fredrick was in treatment at the hospital, Sheila and her family were connected with United Way. Sometimes the team offered advice, and other times they focused on what the family might need at home once Frederick went into remission. 

Frederick returned home in May of 1981. When he did, United Way stepped in and provided the Sullivan family with assistive devices for the bathroom, sterile medical supplies, sometimes a surprise load of groceries, and offered to provide a toupee for Frederick as he had lost his hair through chemotherapy. United Way delivered all of this support at no cost to Sheila’s family. 

“As you consider your contribution to the United Way, please know that I can attest to the fact that they are right at your door when you need them the most,” said Sheila. “They offer tremendous support to families everywhere they are needed, and we felt very fortunate to receive their services. They helped our family at a time when all six of us were literally numb from the shock of a cancer diagnosis. They also helped my mom in the year after my dad passed away through phone calls to see how she was coping with her loss. Our contributions to keep their work going strong really matter to someone … maybe even ourselves.”