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'I've learned so much' | EVMS grad overcomes life challenge to accept her diploma

Helena Pett (MPA Class of 2021) started struggling with mobility in her legs in December 2020. Since then, she’s been in a wheelchair with an undiagnosed condition.

NORFOLK, Va. — Helena Pett studied to be a Physician's Assistant and now with her diploma in hand, she can use her personal experience to help others.

Over the past six months, Pett faced one of the biggest struggles in her life. The 29 -year-old says she struggled with mobility in her legs in December. Soon, she needed a wheelchair to get around.

"I started to have a weird feeling in my legs and then I started having spasms suddenly," explained Pett. "We still haven't found out the true reason." 

It's been challenge both emotionally and physically.

"It's...it's frustrating," Pett admitted. "Then you have your graduation like you're so excited about graduation and still continuing with rotations to make up for when I was in the hospital."

Pett says despite her frustration, this change in her life made her grateful for other things. She says she didn't realize how difficult it was to travel and how simple things like the way a door turns open creates an obstacle. But this new grad was not going to let her condition stop her from her shining moment of getting her diploma on stage.

In a video shared by EVMS, Pett with the help of a walker and others, she was able to walk across the stage with her feet planted firmly on the ground and accept her diploma.

"I had so much adrenaline," said Pett as she giggled. "The adrenaline of getting myself across the stage and coming down from the stage...I did it! It was just overwhelming feelings."

Now, Pett says she's using this life-changing experience to help others just like her. Though she isn't sure when she'll be able to walk again -- she's choosing to reminisce on the happy times as she starts her new career.

"I've learned so much and gained so much perspective and admiration that I don't know if I would've traded it," said Pett.

Pett says she has a couple more clinical rounds to go to before she starts getting ready for her first job and she wants to continue advocating for people with disabilities.