Thursday, October 11, 2018

Major Medical Challenges Lead to a New Life Purpose

Michael Johnson has had quite a hand dealt to him, but has never given up. Diagnosed with leukemia at age five, he went into remission at eight years old after undergoing extensive radiation and chemotherapy. Yet more challenges lay ahead; let’s fast forward 33 years later.

“I was living in Wilmington, North Carolina at the time. I was really broken from my divorce. I was pretty close to being homeless at the time. I was working a job trying to pay my rent. I had been feeling tired for the past couple of weeks, but I had been working a lot of hours at work so I really didn’t think that it was anything medical. I got off work from cleaning the store one night and nearly collapsed on a pallet of Dr. Peppers,” he said.

Michael had suffered a stroke at age 37. He was rushed to the hospital, where he stayed for a month. Luckily, the only side effects from the stroke were that his balance and concentration abilities were somewhat affected. However, when he returned home, it wasn’t for long. He soon became sick again.

“I was re-hospitalized, I was there for a couple of weeks and eventually they put in an AED device that shocks my heart if something goes wrong, because I was also diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure and later on type two diabetes.” The doctors had stabilized him. He began to face the realization that he needed to find a new life path, so he pondered his next steps.

“I knew I had to change something because all I had done before is physical labor jobs. They essentially told me ‘you can’t do this anymore because it might cause your heart to wear out faster,’ and so I had to find a new path. People had all of these perceptions of what I was going to be and they weren’t really listening to what I had to say.”

So, he decided to make a change towards education; he applied to Vol State. “I got accepted. I had Pell grants for the first few years. There came a period where I didn’t know if I was going to make it, because everything was just tough, and I’ve never been really good at academics anyway. Then things changed, and I began to study better and my grades go up.”

He started out majoring in Criminal Justice, planning to knock out his degree and get back into the workforce. He reached a point where he realized it was not the right path for him. After speaking to a classmate who was a Vol State Human Services major and stumbling upon a flyer for the Lindsey Wilson Human Services degree, the convenience of the degree being held on Vol State’s campus was appealing to him. He also like the idea of completing his Bachelor’s in 18 months; it felt right.

Michael had done some work as a camp counselor in his twenties working with at-risk juveniles, and realized that he wanted to pursue some sort of mentorship. After his stroke, he realized that he wants to work with hospitalized stroke patients as well. Both of these are possible within Human Services.

“After I had my stroke, I felt lost. Quite literally, I didn’t know what to do. It’s a bit overwhelming. They (stroke patients) need to know that there’s life after the stroke. It has to do with being a mentor, and sharing my story so they realize that there can be change, that they can rise above the situation. They may not be able to do everything they did before, but I feel like to many times the doctors and nurses limit what they think you can do.”

-By Rachel Keyes

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