From Homework to Hospital Bed, Islander Student Manages Chronic Illness While Pursuing Degree

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Between studying for exams, completing semester projects, and maintaining self-care, college can be difficult. With the addition of a chronic health condition, students not only face the common challenges of higher education, but also the management of illness while striving to earn good grades. When Kierra “Keke” Hill, a sophomore majoring in psychology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, had to leave classes mid-semester during spring 2018 for an operation, she continued pursuing her degree with the support of Islander faculty and staff.

“We were so glad to assist Kierra in identifying options to her unique circumstance. She is a resilient and dedicated student,” said Kristeen Gonzalez, student assistance coordinator in the Division of Student Engagement and Success. “We wish Kierra the best on her health journey and hope to see her back on campus soon.” 

At the age of eight, Hill, a Houston native, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and after several rounds of chemotherapy, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. To help her blood pump to the rest of her body, she recently received a left-ventricle assistive device, which she endearingly named Lilo.

“Having a weak heart takes away a great amount of stamina which affects my focus,” shared Hill. “I’m grateful that my professors and mentors have been patient and continued to work with me during my hospital stays and throughout my recovery.”  

Prior to the operation, Hill moved back home to be closer to her family and doctors. During her recovery from the most recent surgery, Hill was granted special permission to complete her spring semester at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi online while simultaneously taking classes at Lone Star College-North Harris during fall 2018.

“Since day one on the Island campus, I have had so much support from family, friends, and professors,” said Hill. “I love how genuine everyone is and the atmosphere is incredible. It’s been an unforgettable experience.”

What Hill misses most at the University is the campus itself and attending Islanders sporting events with her roommates. She fondly remembers the time when she and her roommates made posters and traveled five hours to cheer on their friend on the Islanders Track and Field team. 

“I look forward to being an Islander again,” shared Hill. “My roomies and I always had the biggest school spirit. We never missed a beat! We had tons of fun together, whether it was taking road trips to see Islanders basketball games, late night stops at Whataburger, or having a sleepover on our living room floor.”

Hill aims to return to A&M-Corpus Christi to finish her undergraduate studies after her heart transplant. She aspires to pursue a master’s degree and a career in psychology as a child life specialist, so she can work with young cancer patients and their families.

“Regardless of what you face in life, that shouldn’t discourage you from reaching your goals,” said Hill. “My health obstacles have not slowed me down, but instead, motivate me to further my education.”