Caps, gowns, pomp, and circumstance. It’s graduation season! Here at Magee, we are proud to have a number of former patients receiving their diplomas this year. We have seen firsthand their tenacity and work ethic, and its no surprise they brought that same drive to the classroom. One of these graduates is Tanisha Johnson. Following a fall down the steps of her condo back in 2004, it was discovered that Tanisha had a 8cm tumor (lipoma) located at S1-S2, with a tethered spinal cord. The diagnosis was Spina Bifida Occulta.
This spring, 11 years after emergency surgery and months of rehab, Tanisha graduated with honors from Camden County College. Here is Tanisha’s story in her own words:
I remember one of the first days of PT when they were trying to move me around on the mat. I remember it hurt so bad, but I was laughing like a nut. That’s just how I cope. Another thing I had to laugh at was how ridiculously hard it was to do easy things. I always tell people that being at Magee was like training to become ‘MacGyver.’ I was always a pretty good problem solver, but after you’ve been put on the floor, out of your wheelchair, and told to get back in it yourself — you’d be surprised at what you can do once you stop and think about it. From making a bed, to getting in and out of a tub, to carrying something across a room, you start to think differently and do more things for yourself. It makes you feel good to have some independence.
The 5th floor staff became more like friends who brought some normalcy to an abnormal time in my life. For that, I must say thank you. After two months, I walked out of the hospital with the aid of a walker as an incomplete paraplegic. I was extremely nervous and really didn’t want to leave. I was to go back in two weeks for my first check up, and I couldn’t wait. I’d get to visit my friends on 5.
Fast forward to 2011, after going through more of my own medical issues, my mom got sick. I remember talking to Dr. Fried who told me about the Division of Vocational Rehab program in New Jersey. I needed to make some moves and to get out of my own head. In Spring 2012, I entered Camden County College full time. With DVR, you have to go full time, and you have to be registered for the para-transit system in the state. I started to travel by myself then: door to door service wherever I wanted to go. It was wonderful. DVR covered tuition and supplies. When I was ready, they also sent me to driving school to become certified on hand controls.
School itself had some rough patches. The campus was large, but I was determined to get around on my own. I walked from building to building (only using campus transport on bad weather days) with a full book bag. I also tried to make sure all of my classes on a particular day were on the same side of campus. It was extremely tiring, especially combined with the medication I was on. But I didn’t give up.
On May 16, 2015, I graduated from Camden County College with honors with two associate degrees and two certificates. I’m a licensed driver, and I am looking for employment. I am also looking into schools to complete my bachelors degree.
I still visit Magee for my check-ups every few months. Angela, Renee, Joe, (I’ve forgotten a few names!) — I consider them all part of my extended Magee family. Going back always makes me feel good, especially seeing Dr. Fried. I love getting to talk with him for our ‘mini-therapy sessions,’ as I call them. Magee is directly responsible for helping me set and accomplish my goals. I cherish the relationships I’ve made there, and I’m forever grateful!
We are so proud of Tanisha, and all of our recent graduates. May you all have the best of luck in whatever you choose to do next!