FROM PATIENT TO NURSE
Melissa Pereira’s story of resilience and finding her new calling
By Jessica Irish
In the winter of 2010, Melissa Pereira woke up unable to get out of bed. She’d been a healthy and athletic woman, so the unexplained herniated spinal disc that debilitated her also left her disheartened.
For months, she endured physical therapy and numerous spinal epidural injections to avoid surgery — all while still working as an early childhood specialist.
“Throughout this process I had lost the strength in my right leg and had to use both feet to push the brakes of my car and had excruciating pain unless positioned in certain ways,” Pereira said. “There were even nights that I would sleep on the floor on my dog's bed in order to reduce the pain that radiated from my lower back all the way down into my foot.”
No matter the therapy, Melissa had to have three spinal surgeries that forced her to spend weeks in the hospital over the next two-and-a-half years.
"Although this was a very traumatic and painful road, my life changed for the better because of my surgeries,” she reflected. "There were many doctors, nurses and nursing assistants that helped me recover and that changed my life forever. In the wonderful staff personnel, I saw true compassion and a caring attitude. These qualities gave me hope and support in my recovery. During my hospital stay for my third surgery, I had made a life changing decision — I want to be one of those nurses.”
In November of 2013, she left her home in South Lake Tahoe to join the third cohort of the California State University, Stanislaus Accelerated Second Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ASBSN) program in Stockton. Even with her first bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, Pereira qualified for the program by fulfilling the prerequisite courses in just one semester.
"This program has been a life saver,” Pereira said. "It has allowed me to only be away from my family and friends for a short period of time and the small class size has allowed me to form a lifelong family with my classmates."
The ASBSN program also allowed Pereira and her classmates to complete their nursing degrees in 18 months at the University’s Stockton Center.
“Clinicals and the staff are amazing, instructors are amazing,” Pereira said. “You always have somebody there that you could ask questions. There was always somebody that cared about you. That was one thing that you don’t usually find in other programs.”
In April of 2015, she graduated from the program, marking the accomplishment with a traditional nursing pinning ceremony.
She’s now back in her hometown of South Lake Tahoe working as a nurse in the post-operative unit at Carson Tahoe Hospital.
“I found this wonderful career that’s going to give back to me every day that I go to work.”