Thursday, July 15, 2010

At Germanna, instead of being pitied, she decided who she was going to be

Amherst College has given Devon Geary nearly a full scholarship after Germanna Community College helped her excel academically in spite of entering the school with a rare and debilitating disorder.

She was so sick in 2006 that she had to drop out when she was a sophomore at James Monroe High in Fredericksburg. She suffers from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). The rare genetic disorder can be debilitating. For those with the disorder, sitting up or standing can cause heart rates to soar and blood flow to the brain to decrease, resulting in fainting.

Some POTS sufferers can't go to school or work. Devon's case is complicated by Ehler-Danos syndrome, which affects connective tissue between joints and makes movement agonizing. At 16, Devon was faced with the prospect of being bedridden or in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

Her doctor gave her little hope.

But she refused to give in.

In 2008, she came to Germanna in a wheelchair and got her GED.

In 2009, she began classes at GCC, using a walker, and frequently fainting.

"There was no way I could have gone to a four-year school," Devon says. "I could barely walk. I could barely stay conscious."

"I would sometimes find Devon in the fetal position," says Winford Stevens, GCC's Coordinator of Disability Services.

She was able to stick with it, she says, because at Germanna, "Nobody stared at me. Nobody laughed at me. I had been in a wheelchair for 2 ½ years. I was used to pity stares. But I didn't get that here. People were very kind and accommodating, but they didn't pity me."

Devon thrived on the kind of one on one attention students get from faculty at Germanna.

Her condition gradually improved, and though there is still pain, she now not only walks on her own, but is an assistant dance instructor. The outcome: nearly a full scholarship to Amherst, one of the top liberal arts schools in the country.

At Germanna, instead of being pigeonholed, she decided who she was going to be.

"If anything, I'm the 6-foot-tall redhead with the 4.0," Devon says. "I was never defined by my illness here and I really appreciate that. I don't know if it would have been that way at a 4-year school," she says. "I think I did pretty well, but it was because of the environment."

No comments: