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For some, coming to the conclusion to return to school in midlife is a stroke of genius. For recent WGU Texas BSN graduate Brett Lilley, it was an actual stroke that led him back to college….a cerebrovascular accident caused by a clot prohibiting blood flow to the brain.
An RN at the time, he recalls the day that changed his life, “I’d been going through a divorce and was really stressed out. My two-year-old son was with me, and the right side of my body went flaccid, my vision blurred, my eyes started darting rapidly.” Having worked for more than 15 years in hospitals and hospice care Brett realized what was happening to him. “I could barely talk. I called EMS and asked them be calm when they arrived, as my son was in the house. I crawled to the front door and unlocked it so they wouldn’t have to bang the door down.” In what becomes a surreal encounter of the patient and nurse crossing into the same moment, Brett prepared himself for the arrival of EMT and tried to explain to his son that they were going to see a doctor. “The fire truck always arrives first here in Lubbock,” says Brett. “The guys were great with my son. They were holding him and talking to him and showing him the truck while they loaded me in the ambulance.”
Once at the hospital Brett was faced with a hard choice. Accept a once-in-a-lifetime offer to take a drug that could diminish the stroke effect, and take the risk associated with it of possible death, or wait. “I looked at my son and thought I had to try. So I took the drug and it opened up some pathways for blood to reach my brain.” He spent five days in ICU because of the seriousness of the stroke, and the risk of the drug to cause bleeding in the brain.
Paralyzed after the event on his right side, Brett faced a wholly different world than the one before his stroke. He couldn’t keep his job as an RN. He spent the next year in physical therapy. “I lost my house, I lost my job, I had to move in with some very generous family friends who would transport me back and forth to see my son , take me to therapy, and take me to see my mom who had been recently diagnosed with abdominal cancer. It was rough.” He was declared disabled. Another person might have resigned from hope, but Brett is made of different stuff. “After 18 months of physical therapy I went from a wheel chair, to a hemi-walker, and finally was able to graduate to a cane coupled with bio-stimulator wraps around my calf that tell my foot to lift so I could try to step without it dropping. After a few years of that struggle, and losing his mother, Brett reflected on next steps.
“The job experience I had wasn’t going to work for me in this new condition, so I started looking around and decided to go back to earn my bachelor’s degree, and maybe a master’s. I found WGU Texas admissions and spent some time talking with them. It sounded like it could work with my situation.
He moved out of his family’s house where he’d been since his mother’s death and began his BSN work in a new place with his son. Hard work paid off, and in March of this year, he graduated. Not one to lose forward momentum, Brett almost immediately re-enrolled in WGU Texas, this time in the MBA in Healthcare Management program.
“I’ve been in the healthcare field a long time. I know most of the people around here and there are positions that will work when I earn this MBA. They are higher paying positions, and though I am still disabled, I won’t be totally destitute with all the hospital and doctor bills. I can make it.”
He adds, “You know the way I see it I had two choices. I could sit back and just slowly die, or move forward and go for it. I’m going for it. The graduate program is a lot tougher for me. I had a lot of knowledge and experience to help me with the BSN. But you learn time management, and you just chip away at your course work all the time. If I look at the whole mountain I’m trying to climb it would be too much, and I’d quit. I just look at the next step. I realize I’m lucky to have lived. Being able to live on my own is a miracle. I want a good life for myself and my son. I’ll be 42 in August. I’m no spring chicken, but I’m not done.”
In between studies Brett is planning a summer vacation with his son who is now six, and a big part of his daddy’s life.
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