Student overcomes medical hurdles en route to graduation

Joseph Bledsoe

Cecelia Hutchinson, a Biology student at UK, had her college career interrupted in the summer of 2015 when she was diagnosed with recurrent pericarditis, or inflammation of the pericardium, a thin sac-like tissue that surrounds the heart, that forced her to withdraw from UK the following fall semester. 

Hutchinson also has an autoimmune disorder that causes the inflammation to be reoccurring, unlike some patients who deal with it temporarily. Some patients with the condition can opt for surgery to remove part of the pericardium, a membrane surrounding the heart, but Hutchinson chose not to have the procedure. 

Hutchinson was born with a heart murmur, and complained of migraines as a child, but didn’t realize they were precursors for a more severe condition. Her monthly routine now includes at least one check up with her doctor and physical therapy twice per week. Her condition means that she is at greater risk for heart attack and that walking long distances and upstairs is difficult and exhausting. 

“It causes a lot of chest pain,” Hutchinson said. “Sometimes my medications can make me sick. Walking is tiring and I get stiffness from my physical therapy and the inflammation in my joints. Stress is also a huge factor so around exam time things can get worse.” 

Mornings are the hardest part of each day for Hutchinson. Waking up with a lot of pain, she can feel “frozen” from the stiffness in her joints, sometimes needing a steroid to help strengthen her heart along with her normal medication.

The largest challenge Hutchinson has faced as a student since her diagnosis is transportation. UK is a commuter campus and before she would walk to campus. Now Hutchinson drives herself. 

“Not having enough handicap parking has made it really tough getting to classes,” Hutchinson said. “Also, a disability parking pass costs $400 even if the reason you need parking is because of the disability.” 

Hutchinson’s condition has led her to have a close relationship with UK’s Disability Resources Center. The DRC granted Hutchinson flexibility attendance, meaning she doesn’t need a doctor’s note every time she misses a class. This saves her a lot of stress since most of her absences are because she needs rest and does not require medical attention. 

“The DRC gives me a lot of help,” Hutchinson said. “Sometimes I have to jump through hoops if I miss a class or assignment, but they are really nice and helpful.”

Hutchinson came to UK in the fall of 2013 from St. Louis and still possesses the same focus and determination she enrolled with. After missing the fall semester in 2015 she is once again a full-time student on track to graduate only one semester later than planned. This fall marks her first semester back on campus after taking an entirely online course load last spring. 

“When I first took the semester off I didn’t know if I would ever be physically able to come back to school, but I always knew I would get a degree some kind of way.” Hutchinson said.