LAKE NORMAN, NC (WBTV) - Sara White is on a mission and it's a mission she has championed for many years now. It started shortly after her husband passed away and she decided she didn't want anyone else to die the way he did, if she could help it.
White is the widow of the late NFL Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White.
"He was a strong man. Invincible," she said as we sat down in what was supposed to be the family's retirement home on Lake Norman in Mecklenburg County.
It is an impressive home built in 2000. It takes up more than 13,000 square feet with five bedrooms and seven full baths. It has garage space for seven cars. The view of the lake from the back windows might just take your breath away.
It is easy to see why Reggie White, Sara White and and their children were happy to finally be settled here.
"His trophy room was off the chart. There wasn't a room the kids and all their friends couldn't be in. I had an open loft above my office so they could play and I could hear them if they called to me. Which is great until they do it all the time," she said.
Unfortunately, the family only lived in the home for a few years. In 2004, the day after Christmas, Reggie Smith woke up coughing and choking. At first, Sara thought he was kidding.
"He used to play jokes on me all the time," she said.
She quickly realized the situation was serious and called 911. He was then rushed to the hospital.
Reggie White never came home. The family moved out and it sat empty except for a couple of times it was rented to other families.
"Wow, I'm a widow at 40-years-old. I'm too young to be a widow," she said.
Reggie White died of complications from sleep apnea. Throughout the night his breathing would stop and start. Doctors prescribed a C-PAP machine for him. Most of the time, while he was still playing football, it would sit at the bedside collecting dust. It was uncomfortable to wear and a pain to clean.
"He would come home from work and have to take a nap. I thought it was because they were doing two-a-days and watching film and I thought he was just exhausted. He was but it was mostly because he wasn't getting good sleep," Sara White said.
After he retired, he would wear the bulky mask a little more often, but he didn't wear it on the night he died. "He was never given the option of something other than the mask," she said.
For years, Sara White has worked with an organization that helps to get C-PAP machines to people who need them. Now, she's partnering with a group called DreamSleep to raise awareness about how properly constructed and fitted dental appliances, similar to a retainer, can be used for many people in place of a machine.
"Only 17 percent of people prescribed a mask can actually wear it. That leaves 83 percent of people who give up," said Brett Brocki, who is the founder of DreamSleep.
Brocki would like to see more dentists trained to properly construct the dental devices, more cooperation between doctors and dentists to alert people to their options and more cooperation from the insurance companies.
"This is a health crisis, not just in the United States but across the world," Brocki said. Sara White has decided to put the Lake Norman house up for auction.
"The kids said it was time to release it. I'm ready. I'm ready for the sound of laughter in the rooms again, from someone else's children," she said.
The value of the home is $4.5 million. The auction begins on Monday morning with an opening bid of $1.5 million. When the gavel comes down on this one, some of the money the family gets from the sale will go toward the campaign Sara White is waging against sleep apnea and the effort to get dental appliances to more people.
"There's no excuse not to get tested and if you have it and your device doesn't work for you, try anothe," she said. "Reggie would be chuckling and saying his wife doesn't know how to be quiet, that she has to tell everyone everything. And I'd say I do."