Piqua woman continues to serve despite terminal illness


PIQUA – Some people are determined to persevere despite their challenges.

Billy Jo Simmons, 52, of Piqua, is still active and volunteering in her community while battling a terminal illness she has been told could claim her at any time. Her husband Paul Simmons describes her as “inspiring.“

She received her diagnosis of hypereosinophilic syndrome following a gastric bypass surgery complication in 2016. According to the Mayo Clinic website, hypereosinophilic syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when individuals “have high numbers of eosinophils (white blood cells).” The extra cells will eventually damage the person’s organs.

Jo started medications, but found she was highly allergic to many of the medications. She finally found a good combination and dosage.

All of this didn’t stop her from finding love again with her husband, Paul. They met online in 2019 when Jo was living in Iowa and traveling to Ohio for doctor appointments.

Paul said he knew he was in love with Jo following the Memorial Day tornadoes that struck the Miami Valley in 2019. He said that he had responded to help and assess damages in Laura. Upon arrival, he said he had a difficult time putting his emotions aside to help others. Jo had called him and stayed on the phone with him for over two hours keeping him calm and allowing him to help others.

“Several phone towers were hit or damaged so cell service was spotty. Even after dropping a call, she would call me back to help. She called me, repeatedly. That’s when I knew,” said Paul.

Paul and Jo started dating and Jo moved to Piqua in August of 2019. They married on May 8 the following year.

Since moving to Piqua, Jo has gotten involved the Miami County Amateur Radio Club, in which she still is actively involved. She went to their meeting on Monday, Jan. 23, saying, “While I don’t have the energy for it, I have enough heart to go.”

Miami County Emergency Management Agency Director Joel Smith said, “Jo has been an eager and valuable volunteer for Miami County EMA as part of our select group of Amateur Radio Operators who specifically volunteer to provide emergency communications support to EMA during disasters. She has been active in attending meetings, drills, and exercises. She has pushed herself to expand her knowledge by completing FEMA courses in emergency management and incident command. She is selfless, kind, and a great team member. She has impressed me by always thinking of others before herself, and her great sense of humor.”

Jo also currently serves on the Piqua Park Board which she joined in March 2022.

Amy Welker, former city of Piqua’s environmental and recreation services director, said “Jo is our newest member of the Piqua Park Board. She has been an asset to the group, she is passionate about the community, and we value her service to the board.”

She is the mother of two adult children, Kendra, 29, and Jerry, 26. Paul and Jo also have five small dogs that spend their days cuddling with Jo.

Jo wants to tell others who have received a terminal illness diagnosis to “Live. Enjoy. Do what you enjoy the most. Spend time with your family. Keep your faith in the Lord.”

“God brought us together for a reason,” said Jo to Paul.

Paul said he believes Jo is an inspiration to others through “her spirit of willingness to serve others” and her “can-do attitude.” He also spoke about her willingness to serve her community.

Jo has kept a positive attitude throughout her diagnosis and other health complications.

“You learn through research. You learn about your disease and the outcome. You learn to accept it and deal with what comes at you,” she said.

“We’ve had our good days of joy and laughter, but we’ve had our days of just crying our eyes out. I’ll take all the bad days to have those good days. Those good days will be what I remember the most and cherish about her,” said Paul.

“I wanted to be with her to our three-year anniversary, but no matter what, there will still be flowers sitting on our table for her,” cried Paul.

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