At a young age, my mom taught me the value of hard work. I learned that to be successful in any setting, one must be fully committed to working above and beyond. She shared a mantra that I still hold to be true in my endeavors: “No matter what the job is, love it or hate it, you give it your all and you will be successful.” I remember feeling that my mom was the strongest person in the world. As a single parent, she raised two kids while also taking care of my grandmother who was battling cancer.
Living with my grandmother was my first experience taking care of somebody other than myself. Having lost her vision and having a leg amputated, she needed assistance with many basic tasks. I assisted her to the bathroom, ensured she took her medication daily, and cooked for her when my mom was not available. We shared many laughs and shed many tears over those four years, a period during which I faced the realities of caring for someone very ill and took on responsibilities far beyond my years. Her death was the first heartbreak I had to endure. Looking back to this formative time in my life, this stands out as one of the first experiences where I knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine to work to transform patient outcomes.
Following my grandmother’s death, I was confronted with the truth about my mother: her addiction to pain medication had started well before my grandmother’s passing. Now, grief-stricken by her death, things escalated and her routine was exposed. The bathroom door would close. Then the squeak of the medicine cabinet and the rattle of the pill bottle. A few minutes later she would emerge. As I grew older, I learned that my mom was not the only addict in our family.
What began as grief became an intense drive to set a new trajectory for myself. I saw education as my key to a better life — one where I would not succumb to addiction but instead help those struggling to escape its grasp. So that’s what I did. Through high school, hard work was met with academic and athletic success. I earned league honors in football and was accepted to universities across the United States. However, when it came time for me to leave for college I learned that my mother was also struggling financially. I feared that the extra financial burden of my education was fueling her addiction and worried about my younger sister. Determined to find a way to finance my education, I decided to meet with a Naval recruiter and committed to four years of service.
While in the Navy, I carried my mother’s words on hard work through three deployments overseas, rapidly rising in rank from E1 to E5 in under two years. My work ethic earned me the opportunity to manage the Fuel/Lube Oil Quality work center where I led many junior sailors and controlled 1.5 million gallons of the ship’s diesel and aviation fuel, a position normally held by E7 or higher sailors. Completing deployments and graduating from rescue swimmer school (despite an attrition rate of over 60%) were some of the most stressful times in my life. But these moments also helped me to find truth in my mother’s words.
Dealing with my mother’s addiction while I served was incredibly difficult. During that time, she lost our home and was forced to move into a small apartment with my younger sister. As she continued to struggle financially and battle addiction, I sought to do everything in my power to improve the situation for my mother and sister. Throughout my service and for a few years after I honorably separated, I paid my mother’s rent, bills, and bought groceries every month. I had to overcome the daily stresses of military service, managing my own finances, and supporting my family. This experience has been one of the most powerful driving forces to my pursuit of a medical education. As an osteopathic physician, I could help to care for patients like my grandmother and do my best to prevent the perils of addiction to prescription opioids.
After leaving the military, this drive led me to attend a local community college as a first-generation college student. It was here that my passion for the human body was illuminated. I remember my first day in my anatomy class: I was so excited to learn about the origin, insertion, and action of each muscle because I wanted to understand how my workouts contributed to the growth and development of my musculature. My continued studies of the body led me to a class where I had the privilege of performing a dissection on an 80-year-old female cadaver, allowing me to observe outside of a textbook the intact respiratory and cardiovascular systems. My excitement was palpable. This experience with a real human body made me fall in love with intricate systems that enable life. After transferring to the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) my passion for medicine intensified as my studies continued and I began to conduct research.
Three years ago, I would have told you that these life experiences had prepared me for medical school. The powerful sense of resilience and determination I had developed could be channeled toward any goal I set for myself. But little did I know that would all be put to the test. During my first year at UCSD I sustained a spinal cord injury which left me paralyzed from the waist down; I was told that I may never walk again. After two cervical fusions and ten months of intense physical therapy, I am walking again.
I recall telling my wife shortly after this accident that I wanted to start a charity organization that benefited spinal cord injury patients who aren’t as lucky as I was to be walking. After three years of living my worst nightmare daily, I can say that this vision has come to life. On March 1, 2021, almost three years to the day, I launched a fundraiser called ‘One Way Out’ with the help of a fellow classmate, Austin Anderson, OMS I. This fundraiser has allowed me to raise $2,500 dollars (and counting) where all proceeds will be donated to Craig Hospital in Colorado to ensure that their patients continue to receive top-of-the-line care. My journey as an osteopathic physician is being shaped daily by past, current, and future life experiences. I know that no matter what career in medicine I choose, I will be able to be a caring and compassionate doctor because of life’s humbling experiences.