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news item News Wednesday, May 8, 2019 Wednesday, May 8, 2019 5:12 PM - Wednesday, May 8, 2019 5:12 PM

Patient leaves Shriners Hospitals for Children — Houston with diploma in hand

Eighteen-year-old graduates after spending three months as inpatient

In the ground-floor lobby of Shriners Hospitals for Children — Houston, physicians, nurses, therapists and other staff members shared the same look of pride as 18-year-old Jonica entered the room. Decorated in black and red (the official colors of Texas Tech University) and twinkle lights all over the room, the hospital lobby hosted its first graduation ceremony.

Wearing her cap and gown, and with the graduation march playing in the background, Jonica was beaming as she received her high school diploma – an accomplishment she worked diligently to achieve.

Jonica spent three months in the inpatient rehabilitation unit for a spinal cord injury after a car accident. Regular physical and occupational therapy was more than challenging for her, but she still made every effort necessary not to fall behind in her education.

Just a couple of days after being admitted, Jonica was enrolled in the University of Texas Charter School at Shriners Hospital for Children — Houston. The Shriners Hospitals for Children school staff, the University of Texas, and Texas Tech University collaborated with Jonica’s high school to give her access to the curriculum, and created a program that allowed her to pick up where she left off and graduate faster.

Even on the days she was not feeling well, was in pain, or was tired from doing therapy all day, she still did what was needed during her daily school sessions. Jonica had schoolwork almost every day, including weekends. She never made excuses and always kept focus on her goal of graduating.

“Her graduation is a true example of her determination and her perseverance to stay true to her goals through a very challenging time,” said Marja Sealey, school services coordinator.

Despite having to deal with life-changing circumstances, Jonica never lost her positive outlook. She befriended many patients of different ages during her stay and became a role model for many of them. Jonica said she found much more than medical treatment at the Houston Shriners Hospital, and credits the nursing and physical therapy staff for always being there to reassure her, making her laugh and being understanding.

“There were so many good times that I can’t pick a favorite memory,” Jonica said. “So many people went from being caretakers to, honestly, being friends.”

Nurse Katrinia Bennett said that with everything that encompasses a spinal cord injury, Jonica had a wonderful attitude from the beginning. She never stopped being nice or polite, nor did she place fault in anyone for her accident.

“I remember I said to her it was okay to be sad, because I would be sad. This is a very devastating injury, but she said she did not want to be sad or angry,” Bennet said. “She went on like that the whole time she was here and was unstoppable. She reached every goal we set for her.”

Jonica said one of her biggest challenges was learning how to work with her new body and figuring out what she could and could not do without pushing herself too far. With a cervical spinal cord injury, Jonica experienced partial paralysis, but she pushed through and made incredible progress. 

“You just can’t give up. I think that’s what I always told myself, you just have to keep pushing. Because, although you’re going to have bad days, you’re going to have good days too, that’s what you have to look forward to,” Jonica said.

Jonica was accepted to Texas Tech University, where she plans to complete an undergraduate degree in business and later attend law school. The sky is the limit for this courageous young woman, and the entire Shriners Hospitals for Children — Houston staff will continue to cheer her on.

Graduation ceremonyJonica with diplomaJonica celebrating with staff members