In 2010, Deona Hooper was finishing up her master’s degree in social work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while simultaneously dealing with health challenges.
“I was getting sick, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t quite know exactly what,” she recalls. “When I entered school, I was already a working social worker, but I had to leave a job with benefits to work a free internship at another agency in order to complete my graduation requirements.”
“I had a pre-existing condition and no health insurance while I was in school because at the time schools were not required to provide health insurance to all students," she says. “It wasn’t until I returned back to the workforce in 2012, I was able to obtain insurance, and it turned out that I had thyroid cancer.”
That prompted Deona to start her platform SWHelper (Social Work Helper), to advocate on behalf of social workers and for Obamacare. Also known as the Affordable Care Act, the landmark legislation which passed in 2010 forbade health insurance companies from refusing to cover patients or charge more because of pre-existing conditions.
As a result of her advocacy, she was invited to a White House briefing on implementing the Affordable Care Act as it related to social work.
The more her activism grew, the more she met people with similar stories to hers. “There were a lot of people like me without health insurance or who had pre-existing conditions, where the Affordable Care Act actually saved people’s lives,” she says. “So that’s how my pain turned to advocacy and how my platform got started.