TSA Officer Latoya Reid was physically and mentally exhausted. But she also felt on top of the world.
She was finally seeing her hard work payoff. Her dreams of owning a home just became reality.
Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) Transportation Security Manager John Knight is inspired by Latoya’s work ethic at the airport, saying, “Latoya has always been a really hard worker. She was working two jobs when I met her. She was always somebody who was reliable and trying to make a better life for herself.
“It was very important to her that she established a foundation for her son and her mom, who she takes care of and is elderly and on dialysis. Toya burned the candle at both ends, and all the while, thinking about the future and taking classes to become a nurse.”
Latoya’s hectic schedule never faltered, even after her 2012 diagnosis of congestive heart failure. At the time, doctors considered her case acute and routinely monitored her condition.
Between her long-term diagnosis and work-life schedule, exhaustion was expected.
“Latoya used to tell us how tired she was,” Knight recalled. “I would come in and ask, ‘How you doing?’ She would say, ‘I'm tired.’ I would get to the point where I'd kid with her, and I’d tell her, ‘I'm not saying good morning.’ And she'd say, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because you haven't said it yet.’ And she'd laugh and say, ‘All right, I'm tired.’ But the truth be known in retrospect, Latoya really was tired.”
In July 2021, only three months after purchasing her first home, Latoya experienced extreme bouts of breathlessness and exhaustion. Her airport shifts became harder to finish, and EMS was called several times when she struggled to breathe.
After numerous hospital trips, Latoya’s cardiac team sent her to a hospital two hours away for further testing.
“I checked in, and (medical staff) ran tests,” said Latoya. “The doctor told me, 'Ms. Reid, you're not going to be able to go home.’ And I was like, 'What are you talking about? What? Able to go home?' And he said, 'You need a heart transplant.' The first thing I'm thinking is, ‘What about my mom and son?’”
Her family was counting on her, and Latoya worried what an extended hospital stay would mean for her new house payments.
Transportation Security Manager Sylvia O. Hagan added, “(The doctors) told her she couldn't leave. It was supposed to be going there and then coming back. She had to stay for two months.”
Latoya did what she always does – persevered. From her hospital bed, she coordinated her work and personal affairs. Friends and family helped her while she waited for a donor match.
Back at GSP, her TSA family rallied around Latoya. They weren’t going to let her dreams suffer while she fought for her life.
Officers donated leave and visited her at the hospital. During Latoya’s entire hospital stay, her South Carolina airport family kept her leave bank full.
Latoya initially received news a donor heart was available but was devastated to learn it wasn’t a match. Just three days later, a perfect match was found.
A year has passed since the emergency heart transplant surgery, and Latoya is recovering better than doctor’s predicted. With her health improving, she has big plans for the future.
“I am about to start nursing school again in December,” Latoya said. “I can't work full time and go to school full time, but I just happened to get an email from the school, and they started their first night nursing program. I'm so happy because I was trying to figure out how I was going to do it all. And then this new program came along. My son is a freshman (in high school). I want to be a traveling nurse when he goes off to college. That's the goal.”
Hagan said Latoya’s positivity continues to inspire her colleagues.
“It's just unreal. Because she went through that experience, it’s totally changed her,” Hagan said. “It’s changed the way that she looks at life. It’s very moving because you see the transformation she's made. Things are just on a different level now. Things she used to worry about are really petty compared to what she's grateful for now. She's just a different person. She is grateful now for everything. … She glows; she just glows.”
South Carolina Federal Security Director Dave McMahon is also impacted by Latoya’s infectious positivity and hard work.
“As leaders, we always look for those in our workforce who inspire us and truly represent our core values,” said McMahan. “TSA Officer Reid has been a positive employee since well before my arrival in 2020, and even through her battle with congestive heart failure, she was a positive, very engaging officer with the GSP passengers. After Latoya’s surgery, I spoke with her often, and that positivity resonated in her voice and has been a lasting inspiration for me. I am proud of Latoya and her decision to continue pursuing a nursing degree; she put it on hold for a period of time and took on a part-time job to help care for her family and some extended family members. Latoya brightens everyone’s day when she comes in contact with them. Very proud to have her on our team in South Carolina.”
For anyone needing a little hope during hard times, Latoya said, “I know a lot of people think they're down on their luck and things are not going the way they need to be going. I'm a very Christian person, spiritual person. Have faith in God. He's going to have your back. He is not going to put any more on you than you can bear. You are just going to have to trust in Him. He's the only one who is going to see you through.”
By Kimberlyn Pepe, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affair