Roxanne Black

Roxanne Black-Weisheit

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Twenty two years ago, at the age of 15, I was diagnosed with a disease called lupus. Prior to this, I had always been a healthy, active, athletic young girl so my diagnosis came as quite a shock. I desperately wanted to find another teenager who could understand what I was experiencing. Out of this desire, I founded Friends' Health Connection.

My idea was to offer a national toll-free phone number that individuals with health challenges could call to find a friend of the same age with the same health challenge. I did not want to limit my service only to people with lupus. Instead, I decided that anyone, any age with virtually any type of health problem could contact me. I would connect each caller, not only according to diagnosis and age, but also based on symptoms, lifestyle effects, attitudes, treatments and personal interests.

Without funding to launch my endeavor, I simply began with a heartfelt letter that I wrote to reporters across the country and sent from my dorm room during my freshman year of college. I compiled addresses from media directories available at my college library.

In 1989, a reporter from USA Today was the first to respond. He received my letter and printed a small article in USA Today. As a result, I was bombarded with mail from people all across the country with a wide array of health problems including breast cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, arthritis, HIV, auto-immune disorders and countless other health conditions. And thus, my organization, Friends' Health Connection, began.

Following the USA Today article, a reporter from CNN contacted me and scheduled an interview from my dorm room. Soon afterwards, FHC members were featured on Oprah, which led to interviews with several magazines including Seventeen, Family Circle, Prevention, Ladies' Home Journal and many more.

I was studying at Rutgers University, which is in the same city as Johnson & Johnson's world headquarters. A vice president from J&J heard about my work and invited me to submit a grant proposal. In addition to providing funding, J&J's executives offered insight and expertise.

With J&J's support, I introduced my program to hospitals throughout New Jersey. I didn't want to rely solely on media attention for my organization to grow. I was certain that if doctors, nurses and social workers knew about my service, they would refer patients who felt lonely, scared or who just wanted to find a friend with the same health problem who could truly understand their challenges.

Today, Friends' Health Connection has grown nationwide. Thousands of individuals with health challenges have found renewed hope, strength and support from friendships made through my organization. Many people have become best friends and some have been in one another's wedding parties.

We welcome you to join our ever-growing network of people helping people and we hope that you are able to find support and friendship within our very special community.