Georgia Gwinnett College nursing student scales challenges to conquer goals
Of the countless emotions a human being can feel, helplessness may very well be the worst of them. It’s the feeling so many of us have experienced when someone we love is diagnosed with a serious illness. Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) student Kelly Mangham of Lawrenceville has become much too well acquainted with that feeling. In fact, it became such a force in her life that she decided to do something about it.
When she was 29, Mangham’s mother was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, an aggressive cancer that took her mother’s life in one short year. Less than two years after that, in 2008, Mangham’s son Ezekiel was born with a severe genetic disorder so rare it has yet to be diagnosed. It has left him with debilitating heart disorders and epilepsy and has limited him to the developmental level of a four-year-old.
To top it all off, in the spring of 2016 Mangham’s husband Kent was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a chronic lung disease that is the third leading cause of death by disease in the United States according to the American Lung Association.
Seeing her husband struggle with COPD was the last straw for Mangham. She was raised in a blue-collar family by a mother who never graduated high school and a father who didn’t get out of middle school, and they did just fine. There were never any expectations by her or anyone else in her life that she’d seek any higher education, but she needed to learn how to take care of people who were suffering.
Mangham simply couldn’t just stand on the sidelines anymore, as her husband and son went through a seemingly endless series of doctor’s appointments, treatments and therapy sessions. What did it all mean? How could she help? She knew she had it in her to find out.
“I don’t have any other explanation except God,” she said. “I was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years before I applied to the GGC nursing program. The school itself was close, and affordable, but the nursing program was exceptionally difficult to get into because it is that good. I had a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t waste your time. Only seven percent get in.’ I hadn’t been in school for a long time, and there was no medical background in my family ... but a voice in me said I would always regret it if I didn’t try.”
She went for it, and was accepted. She was 40 years old and had six kids, including Ezekiel, ages 15, 13, 12, 10, 8 and 5. Kent took a second job as a worship pastor to help pay for her tuition.
At first it was intimidating to enter college at her station in life, she said, but her nervousness was quickly extinguished.
“When I started GGC general studies I was scared,” she said. “Scared that I didn’t have what it takes, scared that I’d let my family down, scared that I might fail, scared that I wouldn’t get into the program, scared to leave my house – just scared all around. It didn’t take very long to realize the professors and everyone else there was on my side. The ways they support you, even outside the classroom – through email, tutoring sessions, the library – there are so many resources. It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t have to be scared to go on this journey.”
Mangham said the GGC nursing program lived up to its reputation.
“They are focused on excellence for sure. There is no compromising; there’s no handing it to you – oh, you will earn it in blood, sweat and tears. And I love that.”
As she finishes her four years at GGC, she has leveraged her Bachelor of Science in nursing degree to land a job in the residency program at Northeast Georgia Health Systems.
She said Ezekiel, despite his health struggles, has been her family’s sweetest blessing, and one night, he helped her see herself as a real nurse for the first time.
“After second semester, I learned pediatrics and did rotations at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,” she said. “We were all home for Christmas break and Ezekiel started having grand mal seizures. I went into action, put him into the position he should be in, called 911, directed and calmed the other kids, and got him the help he needed - all the things I was taught to do at GGC. That’s when it all became real to me. I thought, ‘Boy, if I can do this with my own kid in the middle of all the feelings, I can do this with somebody else’s family member.’”
She wants people to know that, despite all the adversities she and her family have had to overcome, her story has a happy ending.
“Ezekiel is just the best gift from God. He makes anyone around him a better person,” she said. “He is absolutely the sweetest thing in the world, to a fault, and I’m so grateful that I feel more competent when I’m with him now.”
In addition to that, her husband’s COPD has almost completely subsided, something else she says she can only attribute to God.
Mangam said she wants to be the best nurse and the safest nurse she can for her patients, but her husband and son have shown her she can be even more than that.
“Most importantly I want to be a caring nurse. My degree has prepared me for any field – I could go into critical care, pediatrics, ICU, you name it, and that’s all thanks to the GGC nursing program.”
Ultimately, though, she wants to become a hospice nurse, because of her mother.
“It was almost a year exactly between her diagnosis and when she passed away,” Mangham said. “I took care of her for that year because my dad still had to work. I was 30 years old and we had three kids and I was pregnant with number four, but I was able to be there for her. There was something very sweet in that year for me. Towards the end we had to call in hospice care, and they were absolutely amazing. I saw a very tender side of my dad, and I discovered things in myself. There was something very tender about having to bathe my mom, preserve her dignity, and show her respect. She was able to pass away in my dad’s arms. I gave birth to my fourth two weeks later. It made an impact on me that I wished I could pass on to others, and now I can.”
Mangham will join more than 500 of her classmates at GGC’s virtual fall commencement, scheduled for 10 a.m., Dec. 10. The ceremony can be viewed at www.ggc.edu/commencement.