Returning to the OR: Alyssa’s Doernbecher story

We sat down with OHSU School of Nursing student Alyssa to learn why she is pursuing a career in nursing. Read her story in her own words below!


My symptoms started when I was about 7 years old. It started with difficulty swallowing; I would choke while eating or drinking, and was transported by ambulance twice. Then I started getting migraines – not headaches, migraines. I had so much pressure in my head that it hurt to open my eyes or move my neck. The pain was excruciating and I would often pass out. I regularly experienced numbness and tingling in my arms and legs and had extremely poor circulation.

Over the years, the pain became worse and worse and the symptoms were stacking up. They were all over the board and no doctor could pinpoint a diagnosis. I was misdiagnosed for years and had been prescribed a slew of unnecessary anxiety and depression medications. In my eighth grade year, I had missed almost four months of school. I couldn’t leave my bed. I could barely take care of myself. My migraines were debilitating. I had missed so much school that graduating seemed out of my reach, and by then I had lost all of my friends.

One night, my mom rushed me to the ER. The pain was worse than it had ever been. I couldn’t move my neck or head without excruciating pain and I was sensitive to everything – even opening my eyes would cause me to vomit. I told my mom that I just wanted the pain to be gone, even if that meant I went to sleep that night and didn’t wake up. That night a doctor finally referred me to OHSU.

At my very first appointment at OHSU, I was diagnosed with Arnold Chiari Malformation. My decompression surgery was scheduled immediately.  On April 30, 2007, Dr. Selden performed my brain surgery. My life was forever changed.

The recovery wasn’t easy and the physical therapy was painful at times, but nothing in comparison to what I had experienced before. I healed quickly and went back to school my freshman year of high school. I gained new friends and was able to go out and be a kid again. Suddenly graduation didn’t seem so far out of my reach.

Eleven years later, I am symptom free, healthy, happy and on the path to the career of my dreams. After my surgery I knew I wanted to work at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital someday.

My surgeon saved my life as I knew it and I will never be able to explain how grateful I am. However, it was the nurse I had during my stay at Doernbecher who inspired me to become an RN. Her name was Wendy and she was my perioperative nurse. She did more than take care of me physically. After my surgery, I was very self conscious about the back of my head being shaved. I already didn’t have any friends and I didn’t want to be made fun of. I wasn’t allowed to shower yet, so Wendy came in and gently cleaned my hair. She braided it and cleaned up my head while talking to me about school and friends and what my life was going to be like going forward. She would bring me movies to watch and even played a game of Connect Four with me. She was my nurse and my quickly became my friend. She helped me to feel strong – both physically and mentally – and helped me to boost my confidence.

“Because of Doernbecher, I was able to be a kid.”

Dr. Selden, Wendy and the rest of my healthcare team at Doernbecher changed my life. Because of Doernbecher, I was able to be a kid. I graduated high school and was later accepted into the Accelerated Bachelor’s of Science with a major in nursing degree program at OHSU. I am living a dream in school right now! Just last week, I had a clinical rotation in the OR at Doernbecher and I’m pretty sure I’ve found where I belong. Doernbecher is a place where prayers are answered and dreams come true. I feel a strong connection with kids and all I want out of life is to be able to give back the level of care that was given to me


One response to “Returning to the OR: Alyssa’s Doernbecher story

Comments are closed.