O’NEALS — Tonight, in the opening game of the season, the Minarets Mustang football team is starting a Touchdowns For Tina campaign. The community is invited to make a donation every time the Mustangs score a touch down (or make a one-time donation) in honor of local mom Tina Sexton, who is currently in the fight of her life.
The Mustangs are at home, up against Mariposa. JV plays at 5 p.m. and varsity plays at 7.
Just a little over a year ago, the mother of six was a hard-working, vibrant woman. On top of her full time job as manager of the Taco Bell in Oakhurst, Tina volunteered every day at her sons’ schools, attended every field trip, and never missed a single game until she was hospitalized with the rare and life-threatening illness Myasthenia Gravis (MG).
“I was only 43 when all this happened and it was horrible,” says Tina today. “I haven’t been the same since.”
The busy young mom went from walking and talking on her own to being wheelchair-bound at times, and to needing a breathing machine at night — and even during the day on some occasions.
To know the Sexton family is to love them. Tina, her devoted husband Mike, and their kids had a very active life and enjoyed all kinds of outings and events as a family.
Mike and Tina’s four kids who are still at home include Kirsten, 19, who is working full-time to help pay for her mom’s medications, and is a full-time student studying criminal justice at Fresno State.
Alexander, 16 – known as “Bug” – is a senior at Minarets High School. Alexander plays varsity football (he’s a varsity corner and a captain this year) and varsity soccer, and he organized an MG awareness event and walk in honor of his mom. Alexander plans to be in the Special Forces in the Air Force after graduation.
“Bakes,” aka Jacob, 13, is in 8th grade and plays youth football. Brandon is age 10 — Mike and Tina’s baby. Brandon worries about his mom constantly and was witness to her recent crisis in the emergency room and wants to stay home to watch over her every day.
Not living at home are Rick and Sandra Valdez, Tina’s son and daughter-in-law, and Vanessa Valdez – eldest daughter, Eli’s mom. Tina says all of her kids have been incredibly supportive, and have spent many days and nights by her side in the hospital.
The Sexton’s sweet life changed dramatically with the sharp decline in Tina’s health following her diagnosis last year.
“I literally had to quit work from one week to the next. That’s how quickly my health declined.”
She’s had a catheter in her jugular vein in the chest for monthly plasma exchanges, a pic line in her arm for weekly IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin) and a feeding tube in her stomach, since she can no longer chew and swallow normally.
MG has taken a profound toll emotionally, physically and financially on the family, due to the loss of Tina’s income, multiple respiratory crisis requiring extensive hospitalizations, out-of-pocket medical costs for life-saving treatments not covered by insurance, a special diet for Celiac’s disease, other costs associated with making the home accessible and safe for Tina, and general costs of living for their four children at home.
“In the last ten months I’ve been hospitalized and on a breathing machine or intubated in ICU four times due to MG. We are trying to spread awareness of this rare and little-known disease that wreaks so much havoc in the lives of those that have it, along with their families who have to stand by and can’t do much of anything to help.”
The Minarets football community is all about helping and they want to be a part of the solution — whatever that takes.
In this case, it’s helping this beloved family with basic expenses in this excruciating time. Assistant head coach Pat Lynch started the Touchdown for Tina campaign and head coach Becher Marr supports it 200 percent, says Tina.
Go to the bottom of the MGhope.org page, where there’s a Donate Now button — Touchdowns For Tina — you can donate with a bank card or through PayPal.
And when you’re at the game tonight, stop by the snack shack and say hello to Tina. That’s right. Because she’s pretty indomitable.
“Believe it or not, even with all my tubes and being on a portable oxygen machine, I still run the concession stand and am the football mom for the team,” Tina says. “My husband, Kirsten and the two little boys work alongside me.”