Tonia Wilkes faces high-stress situations working as a Mercer Police dispatcher, but her own life experiences have taught her how to cope with crisis.
Wilkes opened up about the most difficult thing she faced in her book called “Renewing Your Hope Ministry.”
Although she said that she loves her job as a dispatcher, she’ll always treasure her first job — being a mom. Growing up, Wilkes said she daydreamed about one day getting married and having kids.
“I wanted to be a mom. That was my number one goal,” Wilkes said.
Wilkes met her husband at a church in Macon. They got married and then had their first child, Kahlie. Wilkes said her daughter was energetic and bubbly.
Kahlie was especially gifted at gymnastics and loved running around doing splits and cartwheels. After watching the 1996 Olympics, she told Wilkes she wanted to be an Olympian.
When 7-year-old Kahlie was diagnosed with Leukemia, the news flipped the family’s world upside down.
“We went through so many different phases of her treatment,” Wilkes said. “And you have to go through treatment for three years. That’s the protocol.”
Within two weeks of her diagnosis, Kahlie went into remission. The family thought it was a miracle, but Kahlie still had to fulfill the protocol’s three years of chemotherapy treatment.
Meanwhile, Wilkes juggled taking care of a sick child and her 10-month-old son, Kason.
Kahlie fulfilled her three-year treatment regimen and then went into remission for four years and eventually off her treatment for a full year.
Then Kahlie relapsed at 11 years old.
“We were devastated because she was doing so well,” Wilkes said. “She looked like a picture of health.”
Wilkes said the second relapse proved to be the most difficult on the family. The family couldn’t find a bone marrow match for Kahlie, so the doctors injected Kahlie’s chemo treatment through her spine, which paralyzed her from the waist down.
The active, healthy child who enjoyed tumbling across the gym floor was now wheelchair bound. She went back into remission for a year and a half, but the Wilkes family knew better than to get their hopes up.
At 13 years old, Kahlie became allergic to her chemo treatment. The doctors tried to find a medication that would help heal her to no avail.
Kahlie still had one year left in her chemo treatment. Wilkes feared that her daughter would relapse if she didn’t fulfill the three-year treatment.
Kahlie’s last night alive is still burned in the back of the mother’s mind.
“I like to tell everyone that she was thirteen and a half,” Wilkes said. “Getting to have her that extra half of a year meant everything in the world to me . . . to be able to breathe her, to watch her blink, to watch her every gesture . . . to just take that in.”
The entire Wilkes family huddled around Kahlie praying and singing worship songs in a hospital room. Kahlie spent her last few moments consoling family members.
“It’s going to be OK,” Wilkes said that Kahlie told one of her younger cousins.
Then Kahlie eyes lifted up to the hospital room ceiling, and she pointed a finger up. Wilkes said she knew her daughter was holding out for her.
“I asked her ‘Kahlie, where do you want to go?’” Wilkes said. “I told her to go rest in Jesus and she immediately did.”
In that moment, Wilkes said a sense of peace engulfed the hospital room — Kahlie’s six year battle with cancer was finally over.
But the realization of Kahlie’s death hit Wilkes hard. She crumpled down on her knees in front of her own mom, crying after leaving Kahlie. Six-year-old Kason struggled to grasp what was happening; Wilkes and her husband knew they would eventually have to tell him.
The mother said she experienced a whole gamut emotions after her daughter’s death, but she clung on to her Christian faith.
When Wilkes was younger her mom gave her a bible with Psalm 49:1 inscribed on the inside of it: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
During those few years after Kahlie’s death, Wilkes said she clung to Psalm 49:1’s promise.
“Even though I was mad, even though I was angry, even though I was hurt, I held on to that peace,” Wilkes said. “I felt like God was going to help me carry the load.”
Wilkes and her husband plugged themselves into planting the roots for their own church called Renewing Your Hope Ministry, which is also the name of Wilkes’ new book.
Eventually, Wilkes said she’d like to transition into working in full-time ministry. But Wilkes said she’s thankful for her current job.
This past October will mark Wilkes’ eighth year serving as a dispatcher. She said she stumbled upon it at just the right time.
Wilkes’s cousin worked for Mercer University as a police officer and told her that the current dispatcher who worked the position for 17 years was planning to leave.
At the time, Wilkes, a stay-at-home mom who was still coping with the loss of her daughter, felt hesitant to apply. Her husband encouraged her to give it a try.
“I knew all the police lingo because my husband was a deputy,” Wilkes said.
Shortly after Wilkes submitted an online application, Mercer Police requested a face-to-face interview. As Wilkes walked through the building’s entrance for an interview, the dispatcher at the time grabbed her.
“She looked like she’d seen a ghost,” Wilkes said. “She says, ‘I had a dream about you, and you were the one they hired for the job.’”
Wilkes almost broke down in tears. Earlier that week she prayed that God would give her a sign about the job.
“I just had such a peace about the situation,” she said.
Although Wilkes said that she had never sat down for a job interview before, she landed the position and began working.
A few days later Wilkes’s husband, Randy, accepted a position as a sergeant police officer for Mercer Police.
“It felt good to be in a safe place and a good positive work environment,” Wilkes said. “There is somewhat stressful situations at the police department . . . But for the most part we’re kind of like a family.”