A Fort Worth police officer with terminal cancer has one less thing to worry about.
Friends, family, fellow officers and even strangers have raised enough money to help Officer D.D. Willingham pay back a loan she took out so she could reach retirement.
Willingham, 55, worked light duty in the south division.
Her impact there is evident in how quickly the community and co-workers stepped up, and now one of Willingham's biggest burdens has been lifted.
"She's literally been an inspiration to everybody in the office," said Det. Charla Smith, who began fundraising.
Three weeks ago, Smith and her co-workers started a bake sale to try and raise money for fellow Officer Willingham, who is battling lung cancer. Willingham was up against a city policy that would leave her unemployed five months shy of retirement.
"And she has fought harder than anyone I've ever seen," said Smith. "She has more dedication than anyone I've ever seen to come to work."
At the time, $32,000 seemed nearly impossible, but the bake sale spawned a gun raffle. Then there was a luncheon fundraiser on Friday, and a bowling benefit on Sunday.
Now, the impossible is done.
"Things came together in a way that we couldn't believe," said Smith. "I mean, the only thing I can explain is that God stepped in and has made amazing things happen."
The $32,000 was how much Willingham borrowed in order to buy forward her employment, in order to reach her 25-year retirement date, giving her a much larger pension than if she took early retirement now.
"I really don't even know what to say, because it's overwhelming that we actually hit the goal," said Willingham's son, Kenyon.
It would have taken years for Kenyon and the rest of his family to help his mom pay back the loan.
"We just really wanted to thank everybody, you know, for the prayers, for the people who donated, people that weren't able to, people that just helped share the link," said Kenyon.
Willingham, a longtime veteran, was forced to make that choice of buying her employment because of a city policy -- one that the Fort Worth Police Officers Association wants to get changed.
In a statement to FOX 4, the city manager's office said they met with Willingham last week to discuss her options, which, since her cancer left her unable to work full time, ranged from employment assistance to another job with the city to early retirement.
None were as financially stable as the 25-year retirement package.
"That's out of my realm," said Kenyon. "I mean, I can't worry about that. All I can do is worry about my mother and just try to help her through the day; try to make her as comfortable as possible."
Early on, some of those raising funds hadn't told Willingham they were collecting money for her, and not knowing that it was for her, Officer Willingham walked up to a fundraising table and said, "What are you raising money for, and how can I help?"
KDFW FOX 4
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