By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
At age 27, Deven Woods was active, spent time with her children, proud of what she was doing, had few worries. Suddenly her life completely changed.
“It was devastating, it was scary, it was so scary… I went from being healthy, vibrant to feeling like I couldn’t do anything so I was really, really scared,” said Woods.
Woods was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the body’s own cells and organs.
Woods developed three more autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, and pernicious anemia and learned it was hereditary.
But that has not stopped her. The 39 year old founded the non-profit organization, “Many Infinities”, in 2015 for those like herself who are living with autoimmune diseases.
Woods prayed for healing.
“God began to give me visions of what certain things would look like. I could see myself talking to groups of people who I had something in common with. And I could see people having access to fresh food and gardens and all kinds of stuff and I really didn’t know what it was…. and they (the visions) just kept coming, and kept coming and then I started to realize there’s something to this, this makes since and so I just did the business plan,” said Woods.
She intended to give her business plan to someone else, but one day she couldn’t go to work and her husband advised her that she needed to do something else. She dusted off her business plan and began her non-profit.
The organization has two primary programs. One, Infinitely You, autoimmune wellness program, provides education, navigation and connects people with resources. People are taught to live with and manage their illness.
Their other program is the Ruby L. Butler program, named after her grandmother. This program offers nutritional grocery delivery for SNAP (The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients and go into homes to check for toxins. They also can send someone out to clean a person’s home. Woods added that they are looking to do some transportation through that as well.
Woods is serious about what she does.
“Our goal is to help people and…if you’re not willing to do this for absolutely nothing then you’re in the wrong place,” she said. “And I’ve done this for absolutely nothing, I haven’t received any pay at all for what we do and I will continue to do that…for me this is about life or death, literally for me, and whatever that looks like is what I’m willing to do….I want to live and I want people like me to live, said Woods.
Many Infinities has a board of seven directors and eight regular volunteers and others at its office in Alabaster. They work with students in Jefferson State Community College’s nursing department.
“That gives them a chance to learn more hands-on about autoimmunity, about serving the functional needs of the patients and also it gives us an opportunity to affect the clinical setting because now these nurses [get] a more holistic understanding of autoimmune diseases and what these patients actually need,” said Woods.
The program has been in place for two semesters since the summer and it’s done once a week for the semester.
“And we even give them the opportunity to connect the autoimmune experience to their own lives and they have the opportunity to . . . work together to develop a full plan for a new member who’s going to receive services from us . . . so it just gives them a different perspective,” said Woods.
Another part of her vision is to teach lower income families how to grow their own vegetables and the importance of healthy living. She said even in the urban areas they want to teach them the importance of hydroponics, the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil.
Educating people of lower income became important, she said.
“We learned . . . that they don’t necessarily select healthy foods, because number one they don’t always know the importance of them, but secondly because they feel like they can’t afford them,” said Woods.
“So if I’m on a fixed income and I’m going to go shopping for my family of four I’m going to get the most bang for my buck . . . [which is] usually not good for my body. That’s why it’s so important for us to teach these families how to listen to their bodies, and pay attention to what you react to and then schedule your meals and schedule your shopping according to what your body is saying.”
She wants to make sure people have a “fighting chance” against the disease and the only way to do that is to make sure that there’s education being provided, “to make sure that families are able to navigate this journey to make sure that those triggers, those things that cause the response that’s lying dormant in your body, are addressed so that we can live healthy and possibly not even experience the autoimmune response,” she said. “That’s why we exist.”
And there are simple steps to take like setting up a garden right outside their doors so that they have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, she said.
Woods said she is amazed how a little bit of education and support help people make changes because, “everybody wants to live and be healthy. Nobody wants to be walking around sick,” she said.
Woods was born and raised in Tuscaloosa. She has three older brothers and is the youngest. She attended Central High School in Tuscaloosa and graduated in 1997. She spent four years in the Marine Corps, became a hairstylist in 1999 and went into marketing in 2002 until she couldn’t work.
Woods said she enjoys being on the front line and is happy that her family benefits from this. Her children have the tools now and know what to look for.
She has four children, an 18 year-old college freshman; 13, 12 and 8 year olds.
Because the reversal of the immune system is usually hereditary and lies dormant until it’s triggered, there’s always a possibility that it’s something lying dormant in her children’s bodies.
“You know what to look for, you know how to listen to your body now, you understand your family medical history, and anything that comes up now you know what questions to ask because you’ve . . . you’ve seen firsthand what these things are capable of doing,” she said.
Woods said the disease has taught her to fight.
“It’s motivated me to continue to live. It’s motivated me to fight, you know I battle four autoimmune illnesses and it’s hard, it is extremely hard,” said Woods. “But when I know that there’s a whole community of people who would not have resources and would not have support if it weren’t for what we’re doing right now, it gives me motivation to get up and get some work done. So in a sense I think this is the healing that I asked for.”