Health Obstacles Drive Student Toward Health Degree, Career


Health Obstacles Drive Student Toward Health Degree, Career

The OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies realizes every decision and action it makes contributes to a student’s learning experience. That’s why being student-centered is at the crux of its core values.

Possibly no one knows that better than Emily Holladay.

Holladay, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Lifespan Care Administration in December, was diagnosed with scoliosis and numerous other spinal diseases at age 12. She had her first spinal fusion surgery at age 15. Then, at age 20, a third surgery during her sophomore year of college went horribly wrong, leaving her unable to return to college as a traditional student.

“I have always had the ability and desire to accomplish my educational goals. However, my health circumstances prevented me from attending college in a traditional sense. The PACS program has allowed me to study and attend courses on my own time. PACS has helped me with my unique circumstances, and I’ve been able to go from surgery or medical procedures back to studying and my work without delay. This made college possible for me.”

“After days of declining health, I experienced septic shock and had emergency exploratory surgery. The surgeon found that spinal hardware had been hammered through my large intestine,” she said. “Because of the damage, I was not supposed to live through the procedure. Thankfully, the surgery to correct the error was a success.”

The mistake led to two more spinal surgeries and two more abdominal surgeries, as well as autonomic nervous system damage that now affects her heart, stomach and other aspects of her nervous system.

“After my failed surgery, I tried to return to school in person immediately,” she said. “However, it was challenging to keep a traditional schedule with my health needs and frequent appointments.”

Holladay underwent a surgery in 2017 to fully rebuild her spine, and she’s had great success. Still, attending college in the traditional sense was out of the question. She has frequent doctors’ appointments, daily physical therapy sessions and routinely travels around the country to meet with specialists.

After some searching, Holladay found the OU PACS program. Although she was new to the fully online degree concept, she said the ability to study when it’s best for her has been a perfect fit.

“I have always had the ability and desire to accomplish my educational goals. However, my health circumstances prevented me from attending college in a traditional sense,” she said. “The PACS program has allowed me to study and attend courses on my own time. PACS has helped me with my unique circumstances, and I’ve been able to go from surgery or medical procedures back to studying and my work without delay. This made college possible for me.”

Holladay said her choice to pursue an online degree didn’t come without hesitations.

“I wondered whether or not I would be able to make the connections necessary for my professional work,” she said. “I was glad when I found that my worries were unwarranted, and the professors in the PACS program were more than willing to help.”

Holladay said she’s made great relationships with her professors, and many of them have impacted her future graduate school education.

“My professors have been willing to suggest future connections and answer questions about career possibilities,” she said. “Additionally, the career center has been very helpful.”

Holladay said she wants to use her own experience to work in health care, and her PACS degree has made that possible. She’s an active volunteer and works with several health organizations, including the Autoimmune Registry and the Alzheimer’s Association. She will be starting her Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in epidemiology in January.

“I’m interested in both the infectious and chronic aspects of disease, and I want to impact disease prevention. I’m incredibly passionate about health, and I have a strong desire to find ways to increase the overall quality of life and health in our country. I plan to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH) or a state health department after graduation.”

Holladay, who lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband, Miles, and German Shepherds, said she’s thankful she found a path to reach her educational goals, and she grateful for the people who helped her get to where she is today.

“My wonderful husband, family, friends, faith and drive have helped me get through it all,” she said. “I also believe in keeping the body, mind and soul healthy. I’m a road cyclist and am passionate about exercise. I’m thankful for what I have experienced, and I believe that I has made me a better person and a better patient and health advocate.”

To learn more about the Lifespan Care Administration program, visit the Lifespan Care page on our website.

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Tami Althoff

Tami Althoff holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is a reporter with more than 20 years’ experience working for newspapers, including The Oklahoman. She has covered everything from breaking news to local music and art. She loves sports, especially OU football and basketball games, where she often embarrasses her children by yelling too loudly.