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Ginnie Graham: Wayman Tisdale Foundation expands mission to meet health, wellness needs

Traveling down Riverside Drive after being fitted for a prostheses was when Wayman Tisdale decided to change his foundation’s mission.

The former three-time University of Oklahoma All-American, NBA standout and accomplished jazz musician had lost part of his right leg to amputation during a battle with bone cancer. For years prior, the foundation he started awarded college scholarships to Tulsa high school athletes who had a fine arts interest.

During a fitting, Tisdale was told the $50,000 cap for amputation services on his health care plan was nearly met, and treatment was only about halfway through. Tisdale could afford the rest, but he worried about those who could not.

His wife, Regina, remembers her husband looking out the window of the car, being unusually quiet, and watching a man out for an evening run. She asked if he was OK.

“He said, ‘I never thought I’d take running for granted,’ Regina Tisdale recalled. “Then he asked, ‘What about if we revamp the foundation?’ So, we revamped.”

It was then that the mission switched paths.

Wayman Tisdale oversaw the reworking of the foundation’s mission, handpicked the board members and sent off the government paperwork before he died on May 15, 2009. The newly established Wayman L. Tisdale Foundation was approved later that year to provide top-quality prostheses to people in need.

It is now evolving into an organization that supports wellness, child health and disease-prevention programs.

The continuation of his foundation’s mission will be helped along on Monday with the second annual Jazzy Strokes Golf Tournament at the Tulsa Country Club — only one of two fundraising events the foundation holds. The other is a golf tournament held in Oklahoma City each May.

Looking over a collage of her husband’s life at the foundation’s headquarters at the University of Oklahoma Wayman Tisdale Specialty Health Clinic, 591 E. 36th St. North., Regina Tisdale points to a photo of him fishing.

He wasn’t much of a golfer, she said with a laugh. But he played in golf tournaments to raise money for causes.

“It’s so funny how many of his buddies became avid golfers. Fishing is what he loved doing,” she said. “You talk about needing patience, but he loved fishing.”

Being proactive: The foundation is guided by “Wayman’s Way.”

It’s a philosophy rooted in encouragement and support of people to live full lives “disease-free, education-rich and wellness-infused.” That quality of life also means having fun and “flashing a smile” — like Wayman did.

The expansion into other wellness programs comes from disparities in life expectancy among lower income neighborhoods and disproportionate rates of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease among certain populations, particularly African-Americans.

This year, the foundation provided a three-year grant to the Tulsa Health Department’s North Regional Health and Wellness Center to provide the food in nutritional cooking classes. It also provided funds for Whitman Elementary to plant an educational school garden.

In its prostheses program, some patients come from accidents or cancer, but more requests stem from diabetes and treatable diseases, said Executive Director Glenda Love.

“The mission has to be more than buying limbs. We have to do more preventative pieces,” Love said. “We want to be proactive and provide education in terms of wellness, well-being and total health.

“Being at the Tisdale clinic feels like a natural fit for us to be able to refer them, if necessary, to physicians even in this building and the area. It’s very holistic.”

Providing prostheses will remain a central service. The average cost is between $12,000 and $15,000 per device, which will last about five years. So far, the foundation has provided 10 patients prostheses and maintenance.

“We are trying to help people have a better life,” Love said. “This helps people go back to work and have successful careers because they are able to be more mobile. That’s the goal.”

‘He would love it’: Regina Tisdale said the expansion is in line with the family’s focus on overall wellness and healthful eating.

“As a family, we started paying attention to food — what food can do — when Wayman was diagnosed,” she said.

Prevention in health was also the reason the family embraced the idea of OU’s naming its specialty clinic after Tisdale. It gives more access to physicians, some specializing in the areas most in demand among the neighborhood’s residents.

Tisdale said her mother lives nearby, and she takes notice of how full the clinic’s parking lot is when passing.

“Every time I’m driving by going to Mom’s, I’ve got a big, big smile. I’m so proud. He would love it,” she said.

This year would have been the Tisdales’ 30th wedding anniversary.

Photos of their wedding and a 1982 Booker T. Washington High School formal with the couple dressed in white and posed in wicker chairs are part of the wallpaper collage at the foundation. Sprinkled in there are everyday snapshots, portraits with family and some celebrity faces.

Tisdale noted how their five grandchildren, all younger than 10 and Tulsa residents, are starting to notice their grandfather’s influence and that of their great-grandfather, the late Rev. L.L. Tisdale, for whom the freeway from downtown to northwest Tulsa is named.

“I have some times I get totally sad and wonder did he have to be gone for this to happen,” Regina Tisdale said. “But the other side, I’m so excited for his legacy.

“We have five grandchildren. When we drive by, they say, ‘That’s pop-pop’s place, right?’ As they get older, it’s making sense to them.

“I’m excited, and he would be, too, because he loved people and loved to be able to do things for people. This would have been right up his alley, and he’d have been overjoyed.”

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