KOKOMO, Ind. – By most accounts, Chelsea Fields should not be able to walk across the stage to receive her Indiana University Kokomo diploma.
After a horrific car accident her freshman year in February 2012, doctors told her she would spend months in inpatient rehabilitation, and then more time as an outpatient. Her brain injury meant minimal short-term memory, and loss of some mobility on the right side of her body.
But Fields refused to count herself out.
“I decided I wanted to prove everyone wrong,” she said. “I wanted to prove to myself I could push past anything.”
Because of her grit and determination, Fields will graduate with the Class of 2019 on May 7, with a Bachelor of Science in Medical Imaging Technology.
The obstacles she’s overcome make Commencement even more special, she said.
“I don’t even have words to describe what it means to me,” the Frankfort resident said. “It fills my heart with joy. All the progress I’ve made by working so hard, and this is proof I did it.”
She recalls very little from the day of her accident.
She was driving to work, and has been told she hit a patch of black ice, slid 89 feet off the road and into a stand of pine trees. A passing volunteer firefighter saw her car among the fallen branches and almost passed by, thinking it had been there a while. He spotted exhaust coming from the tailpipe and stopped to investigate. He found Fields unconscious, trapped in her car, and called for assistance.
She has no idea how long she was there before the firefighter found her, but emergency personnel told her she would not have survived much longer because of cold temperatures.
It’s a miracle she survived, Fields said, noting that doctors told her only three percent of people with the neck injury she suffered walk away. She was in a coma for two weeks, and doctors expected she might not be able to finish the college degree she had just started.
Fields defied the odds, spending only one week in inpatient rehabilitation before returning home.
Six months after her accident, she returned to IU Kokomo, ready to start over again on her degree.
“Since then, I’ve made the dean’s list several times, and earned As and Bs pretty much the whole time,” she said, “I’ve been really motivated and determined to get through.”
It wasn’t easy — she struggles with short-term memory, and had to retake many of her classes, because she lost so much of her knowledge. Professors worked with her when she explained her situation, and she reached out for resources available to her on campus.
She earned admission to the Associate of Science in Radiography program, completing that degree in May 2018, and is now graduating with degree in medical imaging, specializing in CT. In December, she accepted a full-time job at Witham Health Services, Lebanon.
Fields had planned to study medical imaging even before her accident, but now feels it is more of a calling because of her own experience as a critical care patient.
“I know how I felt when I was in the hospital,” she said. “I think about how patients might feel like I did, and try to make sure they are as comfortable as they can be, and that I give them the best care possible.”
With all that she’s been through, being a college graduate is extra meaningful for Fields and for her family.
“They tell me all the time how proud they are of me,” she said. “It’s exciting to be starting a whole new life.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.