She was known as “Lil Bit,” but she had a lot of support just outside her window at the Unity Health Specialty Care campus while she was on a ventilator fighting COVID-19.
That’s where Mike Ragsdale and a group of her friends camped on cots to provide a presence and support for Lil Bit, a fellow biker. Lil Bit did not overcome her battle, though, dying Saturday night.
Ragsdale said it’s his opinion that people and families do not need to be alone when battling COVID-19, and he wanted to be there for the 57-year-old known as a champion to foster kids in the area.
“She is a beautiful person,” Ragsdale said earlier Saturday. “She’s about 4-foot-11 and has given more in her life ... when foster kids needed diapers, she would get a truckload.”
Ragsdale said Lil Bit, whom he preferred that The Daily Citizen not identify by given name, had been “sick for years,” having “advanced Crohn’s disease.” Lil Bit also had diabetes and her kidneys were failing, according to Ragsdale.
“She has spent months in the Mayo Clinic. She’s in and out of the hospital,” he said. “When she’s not in the hospital, she’s out working for people; want no publicity, wants none of it. We are just not going to let her die alone.”
“We look like a homeless camp outside a really nice building,” he added about the group.
However, Ragsdale said camping outside the hospital facility was not about him or the others with him supporting Lil Bit. “It’s about her.”
He said her late husband had the same selflessness as Lil Bit. “When he came out of the hospital with cancer, the day he was discharged he was riding his motorcycle helping an abused child. These people are servants and she doesn’t deserve to be alone.”
In addition to helping people get diapers they needed, Lil Bit also was big on getting school supplies and food to those who need them, Ragsdale said. “She’s known within the circles of people who serve. She has helped with Meals on Wheels and went into rest homes to play music for people. That’s just who this woman is. She’s probably the nicest person that I’ve ever met.”
Ragsdale said people like Lil Bit “need to be celebrated” and he said her loved ones need to know she is celebrated.
Lil Bit was brought up in St. Louis, he said. She went to the Harding University branch in Memphis and “came over and finished here, against all odds.”
“She is definitely a woman of faith,” Ragsdale said. “She writes poetry. She is so loved by the people whose lives she has touched.”
During COVID-19, Ragsdale said something needs to be done so those who are sick can be with their loved ones.
“It’s taxing on the people who love her dearly, the guilt and the horror,” he said. “This story needs to be told. It is not about us, it’s about the circumstances and it’s about her.
“This isn’t over. There is going to be more and more people and they are going to die alone because of the circumstance. If you have to put them all in a room like that and we can camp out in the parking lot in the flower bed, we can look through the windows and see them and use a walkie talkie to talk to them while they are inside the room and they have a walkie talkie inside, too. We could talk to her and that’s what we did. The nurses gave us updates and we could see them, we could look at the monitor. It’s just comforting for everybody.”
Ragsdale said all of the Unity Health staff had been great to those outside her window, which included one of Lil Bit’s granddaughters who drove all night from Alabama to be at the hospital.
On Monday, Ragsdale said, “Lil Bit’s doctor had unbelievable compassion and talked to us. Lil Bit was in four different facilities over the last two months where she contracted COVID and I know she would look at it as a blessing because she had been suffering for the last couple of years quite a bit and her body was just eaten up with it; she had wounds that weren’t going to heal.
“We had a crowd around the window and we could watch her, the nurse held her hand and the doctor and another nurse was in there. We had walkie tales so we could play her favorite praise music and we could talk to her and then the doctor and the nurses could actually talk to us.”
Ragsdale said if Lil Bit hadn’t been in an outer room, where they could see her in her hospital window, it would have been horrible that they couldn’t connect with her. He also suggested that a canopy be put up outside of patients’ rooms so visitors could let them know they are not alone.
“We just wanted to be there round the clock, whatever it takes,” Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale said the reason he only wanted Lil Bit’s road name used was because he felt her story needed to be told, but knew she would not want the limelight.
Lil Bit’s husband, “Blue Dog,” who died five years ago, was the founder and vice president of the biker organization that Ragsdale belongs to. “About 13 years ago, we founded a Bikers 4 Foster Kids organization that Lil Bit worked really hard for. She was always helping somebody, from Christmas toys to foster kid supplies. She never, never wanted recognition for it, always did everything under the radar.”
Even at the end, a giving gesture was made in her honor as Ragsdale’s group donated the walkie talkies they use to communicate with Lil Bit to the hospital for another family to use.
Another one of Lil Bit’s close friends, Faron Hearyman of Searcy, said, “She would have been appalled that we all were watching her the night she died. She hated being the center of attention.”
Hearyman said her community group at her church were bikers and started doing work with some foster kids around 2010. After Hearyman won a trike, it allowed her to become more involved with the group as they were “loosely starting to form a foster friends group.”
She recalled participating in the opening ceremony of Arkansas Special Olympics at Harding University when she was still “fairly new” at riding motorcycles. And she was nervous “because I had never ridden in a group of motorcycles like this that were going 5 miles an hour.
“I was still so nervous, so Lil Bit ended up riding on the back with me so that she could just sort of say, ‘Look on your right, look behind you, slow down,’” Hearyman said. “We were already friends but that was just so much fun to have her there and that really definitely locked in our friendship as far as I’m concerned.
“She was just remarkable. She could laugh at any thing. She could make anybody laugh and if there was work to be done, she’d be the first one to sign up even though she was probably one of the most physically, I’m going to say disabled – she was and she wasn’t; she was just sick all the time, she had Crohn’s and a host of other things would crop up because of Crohn’s.”
Hearyman said she “didn’t know the depth of the things she dealt with for probably several years into our friendship. I got glimpses of it but she didn’t like talking about herself. She would rather go do stuff and do things for other people.”
“We did garage sales and yard sales, Sonic Hops and all kind of stuff and she had every excuse to bow out and she’d be out late in the night, setting stuff up and helping,” she said. “She just had a heart as big as anybody I know.”
Hearyman said a couple of years ago, Lil Bit had Christmas dinner with her and her family.
“She was on a very low fixed income and she still wanted to make sure she brought fuzzy socks for my girls and brought us a little sign, bought me a Razorback shirt,” she said. “She wanted to make sure we had something for Christmas.”
Lil Bit, according to Hearyman, was “sick to death of doctors because half of them didn’t know what to do to her because Crohn’s is a difficult disease to treat.”
Hearyman said she would take Lil Bit to medical visits and she would hardly ever complain. “She would rather be quiet than complain.”
“She really grieved losing her husband. He absolutely loved her and she loved him,” she said. “Man, they were funny! They had a dog named Patch that they both loved and somehow when she [Patch] was gone, she drove herself to the Mayo Clinic [in Minnesota] five or six years ago and was there for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and I think right after New Year’s she felt way better, she drove herself home.
“While she was gone, Blue Dog somehow adopted a cat and she was ticked about that. She did not want a cat. He was a softie when it came to animals. They were something.”
Throughout the day, Hearyman said, there were about 70 people who came to the hospital parking lot to show support for Lil Bit and “there was a solid 40 people there when she died.”
“If we would have not had the ability to say goodbye like that, it would have added a whole other level of, I don’t use this word lightly, trauma of not being able to say goodbye to somebody you love,” she said. “It was very sweet to be out there and to have walkie talkies so that we could talk to her. I went up to the window and I grabbed the walkie talkie and I said, ‘Hey Annie, it’s Faron, her eyelids just fluttered open for half a second, just enough for me to feel like, ‘OK, she heard me.’ That was sweet.”
According to Ragsdale, the group of Lil Bit’s friends donated the walkie talkies they used to communicate to the hospital for another family to use.