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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Near tragedy shapes Hanford Medical Office student’s life

January 8, 2015
Hanford Medical Office program graduate Clarissa Hensley
Clarissa and Colten are enjoying the life her education success has provided.

It was almost a year ago when 26-year-old single mom Clarissa Hensley was struggling to find her footing as a new student in Hanford’s Medical Office program. She and 15-month-old Colten were living with Clarissa’s grandmother, Judy, who also watched Colten while Clarissa was in class and held down a 30-hour-a-week job. Life was predictably hectic. Then, the bottom dropped out.

Judy and Colten were visiting Judy’s sister Glenda when a couple of minutes of quiet prompted the sisters to stop and check on Colten’s whereabouts. In just seconds, Colten had slipped through a usually closed gate and had fallen into Glenda’s swimming pool. Glenda heard the splash and screamed. She jumped in, grabbed Colten and then handed him to Judy, who started CPR, while Glenda rushed to dial 911.

Clarissa got the call as Colten was being airlifted to a hospital in Bakersfield. She made the three hour drive from Hanford to Bakersfield without knowing what to expect when she got there. Colten was in an induced coma because of aspiration in his lungs.

“I couldn’t hold him, I couldn’t touch him and I couldn’t talk to him because they didn’t want his brain stimulated,” says Clarissa. “The hardest part is seeing your child hurt and all you want is to hold him.”

Clarissa was told that Colten would likely be in the hospital for at least two weeks, but on the fourth day, Colten sprang back to full awareness. “I believe in medicine, but this was a miracle,” says Clarissa.

Clarissa had taken a leave from her program and was eager for their lives to get back to normal so that Colten felt secure and she could resume her studies.

Everyone rallied around her and Colten to provide as much support as possible in order for her to continue her education. “My family told me to not stop, and just do the best that I could do,” she says. Clarissa also got a lot of encouragement from her church community, MO program instructors, her mom Stephanie, and especially Clarissa’s boyfriend, Matt, who is currently in the Army and just completed his Certified Nursing Assistant program.

“There’s nothing that I’ve said that I wanted to do that he hasn’t said, ‘Go for it,'” says Clarissa.

Throughout her program, Clarissa was on top of the rigors of her studies and medical procedures.

However, she momentarily lost her footing the first day of her CPR training. “I had almost lost my son, and it was really emotional to take the CPR class,” says Clarissa. “It was fine working on the adult dummies, but when they brought out the child dummies, it was unreal how it affected me.”

Clarissa persevered in her program and earned a 3.95 GPA and the honor of speaking at her graduation exercise last November, as “Inspirational Student.” The graduate selected as Inspirational Student is “someone that has faced challenges and obstacles in their lives, all while maintaining excellent grades and attendance,” says Jessie Manzer, SJVC’s Online Media Specialist. “The Inspirational Student is someone who has been an inspiration to their peers, their teachers and their families.”

“I was terrified and grateful at the same time,” says Clarissa, who has tremendous stage fright. “In high school, I went to a debate, said one sentence and passed out!”

However nervous she might have been up there on that graduation stage, Clarissa’s message rang loud and true. “I encouraged them to overcome difficult times and finish what they start,” she says. And, they know she understands that lesson first-hand.

Clarissa has been working for a medical office for four months now, as a Medical Assistant. She shadows the doctor, writing out his orders and entering diagnoses and codes. She loves the patient contact and helping them to understand the types of treatment they will receive.

“Sometimes when the doctor is busy, they call and talk to me,” says Clarissa.

She has been through a lot to get to where she is now, but she has learned that sacrifice invites big rewards.

“Everything I do, I do for Colten,” says Clarissa. “And, I hope it inspires him and that he knows that he can do anything he puts his mind to, especially with everything he has overcome.”

Born with a cleft palate, Colten has had three surgeries in his young life and will have two more over the next six years.

“He bounces back from everything so quick,” says Clarissa. “I thought I was supposed to be strong for him, but it seems like he is the strong one.”

There seems to be no shortage of positivity in their little family. Clarissa sums it up: “I don’t know what’s in store, but it’s going to be amazing.”


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