Services on campus assist in overcoming obstacles

Jessica Witman

After 20 years of being in the workforce, Kelli Dilworth, age 40, has become a student once again. Dilworth, a junior, works in the Project Stay office while she takes classes to complete her major in Marketing. She credits Project Stay and Student Disability Services for making it possible to finish her bachelor’s degree. “This support is very important to have for people in my situation starting fresh at my age,” Dilworth said.

Four years ago, Dilworth gave birth to a son, but she soon developed chronic pain in her legs and back. After two years with no answers about the cause of the pain, she had to resign from her long-term position as an insurance agent because she was losing the use of her legs. With numerous doctor visits and testing done, a new neurosurgeon finally found the cause of her pain. Her L4 vertebrae, which sits just above the base of the spine, was cutting the nerve completely off, causing the chronic pain and weakness in her back and legs.

Back surgery was performed, and while Dilworth did regain the use of her legs, more bad luck came in the form of a MRSA infection. According to the Mayo Clinic web site, MRSA is caused by bacteria that live on the skin that “are usually harmless unless they enter the body through a cut or other wound, and even then they usually cause only minor skin problems in healthy people.” (mayoclinic.org)

Unfortunately, Dilworth was not “healthy,” having just undergone a major back surgery. She spent 17 days in the hospital, where they inserted a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC). This was so the doctors and nurses could hook her to an IV any time they needed. PICC lines are most commonly used on cancer patients while they are doing chemotherapy treatments. They are inserted in the chest or in the arm, and allow for treatments over long periods of time without needed a new needle inserted in the patient each time. Dilworth underwent three more surgeries to try and clear up the MRSA infection before her time at the hospital was over.

Coming home with weak legs and having to use a walker, Dilworth decided she needed to do something different with her life. After enrolling and being accepted into Project Stay for the last two semesters, Dilworth has been pursuing her degree in marketing and trying to set a good example for her son. “I still have chronic pain but I have my legs back and that is a blessing,” Dilworth said. “It was very difficult taking care of my baby boy before the surgery. I couldn’t imagine not having [use of] my legs not that he [is] four years old.”

With her background in insurance sales, Dilworth is hoping that by adding her degree in Marketing will help her build the life her son deserves. She is also hoping to set an example for her young son about the importance of an education. Even with all the changes in education over the last 20 years, Dilworth is determined to finish her degree and gives thanks to the programs on campus that are helping to make it possible. She said, “School is a challenge for me at this age, with the help I get with Project Stay and Student Disability Services is helping me get it done.”