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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Physical Disabilities Are No Match For Student’s Determination

January 29, 2013

Administrative Health Care Management Student Heather Zelenka At 8-months old Heather Zelenka contracted spinal meningitis, at 10-years old she was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, and at age 12 she began to have petit mal seizures that caused her to lose consciousness for 2-15 minutes a half-dozen times a week. At age 21, while pregnant with her second child, they escalated into grand mal seizures. She was rarely able to be left alone, made a lot of confusing trips by ambulance to Emergency Rooms and, when she was old enough to drive, spent many years restricted from doing so.

As a young adult Heather wasn’t able to work, as employer risk for an on-site accident due to a seizure was too great. She took medications for both her seizures and diabetes that helped, but did not stop the constant medical interruptions in her life.

Finally in 2009, at the age of 28, she underwent delicate brain surgery at Stanford University Medical Center that changed her life. Scar tissue was removed from the right side of her brain, and she has since had no reoccurrence of seizures. She began to think about a future free from the jarring Jack-in-the-box of frequent blackouts. Heather saw the key to her future in education.

Heather enrolled in the Hanford campus’s Administrative Health Care Management program in July, 2012. Recently divorced, just starting to trust the possibility of living seizure-free and focusing on raising her two children, Adrianna and Gabriel, alone, Heather took a leap of faith in herself.

“I wanted to send a message to my kids that I didn’t give up and that even if there are downfalls, if you work hard and focus on the positives you will find a way,” she says.

It is still not an easy road for Heather. She must wear an insulin pump at all times, carefully monitor her sugar and carbohydrate intake and test her blood sugar levels several times a day. Her doctors warn her that her seizures could return, especially if she has a lot of stress in her life. And, going back to school is pretty universally stressful.

“My biggest problem is stressing about tests,” says Heather. “That can cause my blood sugar to drop, so I always have to carry something to eat, just in case.”

Graduation is just about a month away and Heather can finally see her way to the finish line. Her mantra this past year has been “Just let me finish”, she says. And, now she is surprised it has come so quickly. Her next goal is to work in a medical billing office and enjoy the simple pleasures of independence that continued good health provides.

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