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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Family Crisis Nearly Forces Student to Drop Out

October 7, 2013

Andrea Evans knew it was going to be all uphill to succeed in her Respiratory Therapy program on the Temecula campus.

At 38-years old she’d spent 20-years in the restaurant management business and with only a few post high school college classes in the distant past, confidence in her ability to be a good student was pretty thin. Her fears were realized almost immediately when she noticed that most of the other students were much younger – and faster.

“Their brains were like little machines,” says Andrea, “the way they understood things so quickly. I had to teach my brain to think and study like a student again.”

It didn’t take long for Andrea to catch the rhythm of her new student identity. And, she excelled.

About half-way through her program Andrea’s life and the lives of her husband, Jason, 18-year old daughter, Hayley, and 7-year old Seth changed. Jason, a heavy equipment operator, was alone on a job and digging a trench when his boss, Gary, stopped by. Suddenly, Jason went into cardiac arrest and his heart and breathing stopped. Gary performed CPR until paramedics arrived 15-minutes later and took over. They were eventually able to bring Jason back. Andrea got the call no one expects to get.

“It’s a miracle that Gary was there to help,” says Andrea. Imagining anything else was impossible.

The next month, as Jason lay in ICU at Loma Linda Hospital and began his slow recovery, one family’s world was turned upside down. It became a routine of “school, tests, drive to hospital, home, kids, eat, sleep, then do it all over again,” says Andrea. She spent weekends at a hotel near the hospital, while her mom and Hayley took care of Seth and household responsibilities.

The RT program was not a priority.

“I thought about dropping out – and no one would have blamed me for it,” says Andrea. But Jason had pushed her to start school and now he was pushing her to finish. “He would have felt even worse if I hadn’t finished and I didn’t want our kids to see me quit.” She hung on.

Andrea found help from an unexpected place. SJVC students and instructors stepped up with every kind of assistance. “Teachers want you to succeed as much as you want to succeed,” says Andrea. “They will meet you wherever and whenever you can to help you.”

Classmate Cheryl Stansburg organized a school fundraiser to help the financial burden Andrea’s family was facing.

“They raised $1,100. for us and it was a very emotional day for me,” says Andrea. “Mr. Hall told me, ‘When there is a student crisis, we come together as a family,’” she explains. “Without their support, this would have been impossible for me to do.”

Cheryl, especially, made it her business to cover for her friend. “Cheryl drove me to clinic sites, brought food to me at school and at the hospital, took notes for me when I couldn’t make it to class and just made it clear to me that she would help in any way she could.”

Andrea made up clinical days and still managed to complete the RT program in August with a 3.67 GPA. She has also completed her licensure exam and recently passed the Registered Respiratory Therapy exam.

“Andrea has become an inspiration to classmates, underclass students, instructors and practitioners at the hospitals,” says Michael Schultz, RT Director of Clinical Education. “She is someone I would want to be working with during a disaster situation because she has proven that she has the ability to complete what needs to be done in very stressful circumstances.”

Jason is now home and continuing to recover. “He has no brain or heart damage, which we attribute to how healthy he was before,” says Andrea.

Andrea is about to start work as a Respiratory Therapist at a local hospital and is looking forward to a full-time, 3-day work week.

“I spent 20-years in the restaurant business, with a husband and daughter I never saw,” she says. “You always have an excuse to put things off because…life happens.”

Andrea is happy that their new life will allow her more time with her family. Her only regret?

“The thing I’d have done differently is to do this program 20-years ago,” says Andrea.

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