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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Medical Assisting career inspired by life-threatening illness

May 16, 2019

Porterville Clinical Medical Assisting graduate Susan DavidsonIn October 2016, Susan Davidson was chopping some firewood on the ranch property she and her sons Hayden, now 9, and Brody, now 6, and fiancé Kirk, live on. Later that evening, she felt something in her lower-left leg. Using a pair of tweezers, she was amazed to see Kirk pull a tick out of her calf. “Oh great, I’m going to end up with Lyme disease,” she joked. She wasn’t wrong.

She had completely forgotten about the tick, because over the next few months she started to have debilitating symptoms. “First my weight and then my memory started going,” Susan remembers. She lost 75 pounds in two months. “You look like you’re going to die,” she told her reflection in the mirror.

Her doctor’s office ran numerous tests for cancer, Lyme disease and autoimmune diseases, but while they all waited for test results, Susan remembered that day in October. “It all came together, and I figured it out before I got the test results,” she says.

The prognosis was not good. “I will never get rid of it or the symptoms,” says Susan. And the symptoms are devastating. “I have body muscle pain that burns like someone took a match and set me on fire,” she says. “I have chronic fatigue, extreme night sweats, short-term memory issues and I’m always cold. I sometimes think about a task I have to do then completely forget about if for a couple of days, until it pops into my head.”

She gives herself injections twice a week and takes medications that help with depression and anxiety.

Most of her healing and peace of mind comes from Kirk and the boys. “Kirk supports me in whatever I do. He’s a great father; my boys call him Dad. He makes dinner, does the dishes, makes beds…all that kind of stuff. He cuts wood by himself. That’s a big thing for me.”

Hayden was diagnosed with severe autism at around age two. “He used to scream over 350 times a day, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that today,” says Susan. “He is barely learning how to talk. He’s always been smart as a whip, but we just couldn’t communicate. Everyone in our community knows Hayden. He’s a very sweet boy and very caring.”

Susan’s new diagnosis meant that their shared lives would carry a lot of responsibility, patience and uncertainty. But they were all determined to make it work. In fact, Susan decided to kick it up a level. She enrolled in SJVC’s Clinical Medical Assisting program on the Porterville campus.

“I wanted to feel like I had a different purpose,” she says. “Having Lyme disease, I didn’t feel like I could do anything, so I basically went back to school to prove myself wrong….prove that Lyme disease couldn’t take over my entire life.”

Susan shared her story and her struggle with instructors and classmates. “They thought they would have to treat me differently, but I didn’t want to be treated different,” she says. “Sometimes they didn’t want to do blood draws and injections on me because I have small veins. But I told them they will have to learn to do this on other skinny people, too. Not everyone is the same size.” At 120 pounds, she was happy to have added 10 new pounds to her 5’5” frame over the last couple of months of class.

Her dedication, honesty and motivation is what her Clinical Medical Assisting instructor Laura Cervantez appreciates most about Susan. “She was 100% motivational to the students, even though she felt ill most of the time,” says Laura. “She never complained and always worked hard to maintain good grades.”

Susan formed close bonds with her instructors and classmates. “Mrs. C (Laura Cervantes) was understanding, but she was loving but hard and told you what it’s like in the real world and what to expect. I loved that about her. It’s kind of a cliché, but it was like a family. Everyone’s willing to help each other; students who have been there longer are willing to help new ones. At the end of every mod, we’d have a BBQ cook-out with tents and tables.”

Susan could use the burgers and hotdogs. But her small size did not reflect her large ambitions.

And her daily struggle was not at all lightweight. “I tried so hard not to miss one single day, and I was always on time,” says Susan. “I’d wake up extra early because I do get sick most mornings and wanted to get through it before I went to school. I set the bar real high because I knew it would work better for me if I set big goals for myself.”

She was not out there all alone. “I’ve never had any confidence until I met Kirk,” says Susan. “He’s taught me to stand up for myself, speak my mind and be who I am. He’s been a huge help with Hayden and has made his life so much better. Kirk was just born that way, and his mom taught him those values.”

Susan completed her Clinical Medical Assisting program last December and is now working as a medical assistant in an orthopedic doctor’s office where she performs both front- and back-office assistance. On her clinical days, she is in the room with the doctor as he treats patients, and she keeps meticulous notes for patient records and follow-up. On non-clinic days, she is involved with insurance billing and other front-office responsibilities.

“I’m extremely confident that this is my perfect job,” says Susan. “It is somewhere that will let me shine, and I know I will succeed and surpass many expectations.”

At this moment, life is good for Susan, Kirk, Hayden and Brody. The big wedding is set for this month and many will celebrate with this family the life they have created out of hard-won victories.

What comes next will spring from the strength they have forged together. Susan is willing to just let the future reveal itself. “I want to get into a rhythm and just go with it.”

Important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rates of students who attended SJVC can be found here.

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