This personal essay was written by Ahmad Alsardary MOT'14 (left), who graduated from University of the Sciences on May 21, 2014. His father, Salar (right), is a mathematics professor at the University. They will be featured on WOGL's Philadelphia Agenda on Sunday, June 8, at 6:30 a.m., to share the message below:
Non-traditional students are unique because their stories set them apart from the masses. There are many paths to victory, and some may be easier than others; but the non-traditional students always prefer to blaze their own trails. They realize that it is the journey that forges their character, and they endeavor to leave a mark on the world in an inimitable way. These are the students whose purpose is not to prove to the world, but to alter it with their very existence. Their vision is rooted in a deeper cause, they value life, and they want to make a difference in the world. Their life is a journey through darkness and demons to attain their lofty goals.
I was born with a kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome, and doctors did not expect me to live past the age of 2. By following a strict diet, I was able to live a healthy life until the age of 5 when both of my kidneys failed and had to be removed. I was then put on peritoneal dialysis until the age of 8. At 7-years-old, dialysis began to strain my heart, and I had to have open-heart surgery to repair my aortic valve. Fortunately, at age 8, I received a second chance at life – I matched for a kidney transplant. I lived with this kidney and took immunosuppressants along with many other medications just so that my body would not fight it off. I also had 14 other surgeries within that time and struggled with chronic asthma, ear infections, and sinusitis.
Despite having a hard life growing up, I relied of the tremendous support I received from my parents. They instilled within me the belief that I was capable of anything, that I could leave a significant mark on the world. Although I was in and out of hospitals most of my life, I learned the value of education and schooling. For them, I was still a “normal kid.” I went through life attempting to live and interact like any other normal student but deep down inside I knew I was apart from the rest. I was bullied constantly throughout middle and high school, but I could not tell them I was sick because then I would be treated differently. Pity was the last thing I wanted.
I was then accepted into University of the Sciences and entered into the pharmacy program for my first semester. I quickly realized I was not suited for pharmacy; I wanted to go into a program that had more patient interaction. The decision to switch to occupational therapy has altered my life and outlook for the better. As I excelled in this program, I eventually faced a startling setback. At the end of the fall semester of my junior year, three weeks before finals, my kidney failed again. I felt defeated; this would ruin my plans of obtaining my bachelor’s degree and left no hope of pursuing of my master's degree.
As I was put on hemodialysis and I had to get my blood cleaned three times a week, I was entertaining unwelcome thoughts: If I never found a donor, I could be on dialysis for the rest of my life. This time period in my life was incredibly painful for me, and I was depressed in bed without any hope. However, if it was not for God and family, I would not be where I am right now. My parents motivated me and drove me to have a positive outlook on my life. They told me to keep moving forward despite everything that had happened. My dream was to become an occupational therapist to give back. My mission was to help others who were less fortunate than I was in regards to their health, and nothing was to stop me, not even dialysis.
That semester, I sat for and passed all my finals. Throughout my fourth and fifth years, the combination of being on dialysis and going to school simultaneously drained me both mentally and physically. I was going to dialysis for three times a week at night for four hours after my classes in the morning and afternoon. The hardest time for me would be this previous year during my full-time clinicals or level II fieldwork. I would travel close to an hour commute everyday from my site to my home, work eight hour days, and come back to dialysis at night; only to wake up the next morning to repeat this process all over again. That still would not stop my dream and destiny of wanting to help others as an occupational therapist. I was able to complete and pass all of my my graduate-level coursework. I graduated on May 21, and it still feels like a dream to me.
I am a non-traditional student because I followed my dream and accomplished what I sent out to do against all odds. That despite all what was best for me health wise, I still persevered and pursued a higher education. This is why I stayed active and volunteered at many places throughout my years at USciences. I was not supposed to live past the age of 2. Now, at the age of 23, still living on dialysis, I have a master's in occupational therapy from a prestigious university.
My advice is to follow your dreams, and have the courage to face whatever challenged or darkness surrounds you. It is rare people who incite that passion in you, so cherish them. Please, never take your health for granted and always strive to help others; help others see that dreaming is believing and that obstacles are only a test of faith and a test that makes you stronger, wiser and pushes you to fulfill your dreams and ambitions to succeed in your life.