yoocan - Alena Chesser - Education Beats Everything

Education Beats Everything

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Alena Chesser

Life Long Learner

I attended Sullivan University from 2007 – 2012. Sullivan is like a second home for me, if you walk down the admissions hall, you can see photos of me on the walls. I know every teacher and often come by just to visit. I want to share a quick story that I will always remember.

It was Graduation Day for my Masters in Conflict Management. That year I had been fighting with a lot of medical issues, and had been very sick. When I was called to walk across the stage, I started crying happy tears. I had overcome and pushed through so many hard times. As I was being hooded, Dr. Marr said to me “Why are you crying? The hard part is over, and you did it!” This put a big smile on my face as he has always been one of my favorite people at Sullivan. Dr. Marr is kind and very understanding. When I walked off the stage, I had to be assisted with walking to the lobby so that I could relax until the ceremony was over.

While I was at Sullivan, there were days I had to come in my deputy uniform. Working, school, and medical problems were difficult, but I grew from the struggle to become who I am today. In 2010 I was diagnosed with a brain tumor on my frontal lobe. The doctors advised against surgery because it could cause memory loss. (To be honest, I was not about to go through something where I could just lose all of the education I had spent so much time working on). So, without surgery I started treatments and radiation. As the tumor grew, I started having seizures. I still fight the seizures with medications, and some days I lose the fight. Last week I fell from my wheelchair having a seizure, and landed on my hardwood floor. I broke my nose and herniated 4 disks in my neck. I continued to work with the Sheriff’s office. I was on the rapid response team and honor guard, standing watch over a deputy we lost was one of the most emotionally challenging things I had ever had to do.

Spinal Cord Injury

On September 17, 2013 I sustained a spinal cord injury and am now paralyzed from my chest down. I have been unable to work since then which it’s hard for me. I am very active, so I found a way to be part of my community again, but have enough flexibility for doctors’ appointments and bad days. That is when I started a 501c3, called “Block Out: Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries”. The program originated as a way to get therapeutic blocks that work on fine motor skills out to children since the blocks aren’t covered under insurance and can be pricey. We grew fast, going to help children in; Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana, Texas, and of course right here at home in Kentucky. We expanded our services to help families get medical equipment they need and physical and occupational therapy resources. We also try to encourage families to work together for support and bond building with someone that understands. We have pot lucks, we are in parades, and the families and children couldn’t be happier. 

I didn’t feel like this way enough for me, I wanted to reach out more to the community. I used the business classes to help me know the proper ways to reach out to people and places and speak about disabilities. In November 2015, I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky it is part of the Ms. America pageant but exclusively for wheelchair users. There was some intense judging, 3 days with judges and we got asked a little bit about everything in the closed door interviewing. My favorite question was “If you had to sing about the Ms. Wheelchair pageant and what it would mean to win, what would you sing?” So being as hyper as I am I started singing to the judges even though I truly can’t carry a tune it went something like this “I’m going to advocate, and talk about acceptance and accessibility.” As I spun my wheelchair around and flung my arms around until I got them all to laugh. 

As Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky, my life got crazy real fast. Before I could get home with the crown on people were calling me to set up events. I have been on every news station in Louisville (WDRB twice), the newspaper ran 5 different articles about me this year, and I was on the radio 4 times. People seemed to know me, better than I knew myself. I once got stopped by a stranger in Walmart – I was not dressed for the occasion, no make-up on and my hair a mess. She insisted on getting a picture of me so I went along with it. She tagged me in the picture on Facebook, so everyone saw my Walmart photo. (It’s funny now, but I was a little embarrassed) .

I have done several speaking engagements: I have visited 14 elementary schools, was the Commencement speaker for the Galen College of nursing graduation, and did much advocating and speaking about transportation for those with a disability, because in Kentucky there aren’t many options. My platform became; Acceptance, Accessibility, and Advocating. Acceptance finding the way into the hearts and minds of others. Accessibility finding a way into community involvement. Advocating finding a way to educate and change the world. I had an opportunity so speak and teach at the Kentucky Department of Emergence Management, about winter weather with a disability, independent living, and controlling opportunistic crime. (I learn a lot from Dean Christopher Hughes, in my under graduate of Justice and Public Safety) I have also gotten to do a lot of fun stuff this year like: take toys that McDonald’s raised to the UK children’s hospital and Home of the Innocents. Helped encourage a summer reading program with children in Bullet and Hardin Counties in conjunction with the county libraries. 

I wish when I was young that someone would have spent time with me reading, learning, and connecting with me. I didn’t learn to read until 5th grade and no one noticed. I ended up have to go to a reading class instead of recess every day. Interestingly enough her name was Ms. Reading, and I can still remember the first book I actually read “The Hounds of Baskervilles”. From that point on I loved to read. Now as a 15 year old, I was volunteering at the Nursing Home my grandmother worked at. I would go play games, visit with those that didn’t have family, and pass out books and magazines. One day I walked passed a room that said, Mary Reading. I thought surely not, and I had to check. She remembered me, and in a tragic turn of events she was in the home because diabetes had taken he vision. The woman that taught me to read was now blind, she asked me to read out loud to her and how could I not after what she had done for me. We read the newspaper, magazines, books, anything I could get my hands on. For months I did this until she passed away in her sleep. 

I was heartbroken, and loved her for the opportunity she had given me in life. Because of her actions I was first in my family to ever attend college. Sullivan was that perfect place for me. My cousin then decided if I could do it she could to. Jessica Rodger-Powell attended Sullivan University Lexington Campus for Medical Assisting. She is raising 5 children and without college there would be no way for her to support them all. Sullivan is my family and my family has become Sullivan University. 

My medical situation just keeps taking turns for the worse, I think that is why I want to give my Thanks to Sullivan for what I was able to accomplish. With a Brain Tumor, Seizure, a Spinal Cord Injury, Raynaud’s Syndrome, and on May 28th of this year being diagnosed with Essential Thrombocythemia which is a pre-stage acute leukemia. My life has been hard, but no short on amazing either.

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