For Sheila Castaneda, putting drivers on the road is not just a job, but a mission of hers. As a director of business development at Centerline Drivers, she takes pride in getting to know her drivers personally, many of whom tell her that driving for her Mobile Driver Services division has changed their lives.
“Sheila’s success is in helping people,” said colleague John Trahan, also a director of business development at Centerline. “She is a pioneer in our industry and has set the stage for creating solutions within our industry that support trucking and women. Her staff and clients love her. She has made a strong impact on so many and has created so much opportunity for so many. The world of transportation is a better place due in part to Sheila’s efforts.”
But on Nov. 11, 2016, none of that mattered. Suffering from constant pain in her left leg and without a diagnosis from any doctor, she went to the emergency room to get help. Thanks to a lucky interaction, she found out what was wrong, but also learned she had a difficult decision to make.
“A vein specialist happened to be the emergency doctor on call in the hospital that day,” she said. “He found the problem right away and I was told I could not go home; it was not safe.”
The problem was antiphospholipid syndrome, a rare disease in which the body’s immune system produces abnormal antiphospholipid antibodies, which cause blood clots in the legs, kidneys, lungs and brain.
“The doctor tried surgery first and graphed an artery to my foot to see if it would work,” Castaneda said. “I was able to finally go home on Christmas Eve but by New Year’s Eve, I was back in the hospital as it did not take.”
She learned that the issue would be life-threatening if she did not take care of it. Her other two options were not much better: continue coming to the hospital each time she needed help or have her left leg amputated.
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One in four adults in the United States lives with a disability and worldwide, there are more than 1 billion people living with disabilities. The International Day of People With Disabilities on Dec. 3 aims to show support and raise awareness of “the importance of creating a future where people with disabilities experience equal opportunity and face no barriers in all aspects of their lives.”
Living – and thriving – with a disability is not easy. Between the physical barriers, workplace barriers, societal barriers and additional healthcare issues, day-to-day life can be a challenge. Adding in those barriers later in life, as Castaneda did, can be even more challenging. But it was the result of a difficult, but important decision.
“I am not one who likes to spend time in the hospital, so that was not an option and neither was doing nothing,” Castaneda said. “My family really wanted me to be well and be with them for years to come so they completely understood my decision. I could not have done this without the love and help of my family. My girls are always there for me in happy and tough times. I know they will be there for me always as I will be for them. I also couldn’t have done it without my work family’s understanding and well wishes. It was, and still can be a very emotional time.”
Knowing that it would be difficult, but it would end the pain and danger to her health, she chose to have her left leg amputated in early 2017. Through therapy and the support of her family and colleagues, she was able to adjust to her new life and return to where she felt she belonged – at the helm of Centerline’s Mobile Driver Services.
“Sheila is an amazing example of perseverance and dedication,” said Centerline Drivers President Jill Quinn. “Her strength and selflessness in the face of personal adversity is incredible. She has always been and remains selfless and dedicated to helping others, whether that’s at work or in her personal life. She is an inspiration and an influential leader to everyone at Centerline.”
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For more than 30 years, Castaneda has been a constant in the transportation industry. As so many changes have happened around her, she’s maintained a focus on building Centerline into the national company it is today and making sure her drivers have what they need to succeed. She was a key member of the leadership team that supported the development of a 24/7 service center for drivers and customers, supported by live personnel, and has been instrumental in building Centerline Drivers’ Mobile Driver Division into a multi-million-dollar, national organization. She is both a friend and confidant to hundreds of truck drivers across the country.
When she returned to work in May 2017, she didn’t know what to expect at first. But she knew that she needed to continue doing what she does best: making a difference in other people’s lives and proudly helping people in difficult situations. It wasn’t easy, but she got through the difficult transition through “the grace of God, my family, my work family, a very good therapist, and the joy I get from changing our drivers’ lives.”
“It might sound a little cheesy but it’s very true,” she said. “I had to look deep inside myself and decide where it is I see myself and how I am going to get there.”
As she has overcome adversity to be a leader in the industry, she has continued to serve others, as a mentor to women across the industry, as a role model for aspiring leaders and as a board member with Truckers for the Homeless, which gives such items as socks, blankets and personal hygiene to those in need. She also serves on TrueBlue’s Diversity and Inclusion Council because she believes that helping and supporting those in need, those facing adversity or those looking for guidance is vital. Because you never know when you will need those things.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “Know that someday God will place someone in your path that you need to help and you need to be prepared. Continue to love life and know that every day is a gift.”