Alexandria Mills sharing her story with guests of FSW's scholarship luncheon earlier this year.
While college is typically a time for students to explore their interests and decide what it is they want to do with their lives, 22-year-old Florida SouthWestern State College student Alexandria Mills discovered that her path was defined by her mother's cardiac disease.
Alexandria knew she wanted to work in a health profession after graduating from Oasis High School in Cape Coral, Florida, in 2011. She was awarded a housing scholarship to live on FSW's Thomas Edison (Lee) Campus and took some general education courses, but had to stop when her mother's health took a turn for the worse.
Her decision to return to FSW and apply to the School of Health Professions' Cardiovascular Technology (CVT) program came when she sought a way to help her mother.
"As a single mother, she didn't have a support network and that's what made us decide to move to Fort Myers," says Alexandria, explaining how she moved with her mother from rural Kentucky to Southwest Florida after her parents divorced in 2000.
Her mother's diagnosis of trigeminy PVCs (premature ventricular contractions) required regular visits to the cardiologist and Alexandria started to accompany her for support.
"She has a lot of heart palpitations. A person's heart rate should be 60-100 heart beats per minute, my mother's is 54. She has a very slow heart rate, murmurs and experiences a lot of side effects," she explains.
Wanting to do something to help her mother and others with similar afflictions, Alexandria applied to FSW's rigorous CVT program, requiring a background check, an entrance exam and panel interview in order to be admitted and attend clinical rotations in one of the College-affiliated cardiovascular catheterization laboratories inside local hospitals.
Alexandria oversaw her mother's care from both sides – as a daughter and CVT student – and she understood what needed to be done, assisting her mother in making important lifestyle changes.
"My goal for her and patients I'll be caring for, is to find ways to make their lifestyles more comfortable," she says. "There is no cure for cardiac disease, but I can explain some of the things they can do or food they can eat to make life better."
Alexandria said that her mother's condition has improved and now she hopes to make that same impact on other people's lives as a cardiovascular technologist.
Alexandria Mills [center in blue and white dress] at an FSW scholarship luncheon earlier this year.
The CVT program is capped at 20 students, each completing the required coursework and making clinical rounds in order to graduate. They also work closely with fellow classmates in the Respiratory Care program, another offered in FSW's School of Health Professions.
"A huge part of the program is working together as a team and learning those values," Alexandria says. "Even though we don't work directly with a respiratory therapist, they're still part of our team so we talk to them and learn from them in a clinical setting. My instructors want us to have the social skills as well as the knowledge."
Many graduates of the CVT program are offered jobs during clinical rotations or shortly after finishing the program, while others keep studying to earn FSW's Bachelor of Science degrees in cardiopulmonary sciences, providing them with even more opportunities to treat patients in their local communities.
For more information on how to support FSW's School of Health Professions or the Cardiovascular Technology program, visit the FSW Foundation homepage.