Speech-Language pathology doctoral candidate Cindy Parr will walk across the stage in May to receive her diploma after seven years of work. While a graduation for most marks the end of their schooling, Parr’s graduation marks the end of so much more.

“Defying the odds is just hard to even think about, because it’s such a small statistic, but I’m still here,’” Parr said.

Parr was five months pregnant with her first child when she met with a cardiologist and was cleared to have the baby, despite having pain in her back. Parr was unsure if this was normal for a pregnant woman, considering this was her first pregnancy.

Although Parr’s daughter was due on Dec. 13, she was taken to the hospital and gave birth on Nov. 25. Unbeknownst to her, Parr had suffered an aortic aneurysm and dissection a week before, which is deadly for 85% of people affected. Her husband describes their daughter’s birth as a “miracle.”

Parr suffers from Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue. The weight gain from the pregnancy increased the likelihood of the diagnosis.

One month after Parr had her daughter, she met with the cardiologist, who was much more concerned than last time. After ordering a CT scan, the doctor warned Parr that if she felt any pain at all, she was to head to the emergency room immediately.

It was not until February that doctors found the aneurysm Parr had during the birth of her daughter. They ordered for an intense surgery on March 1 to replace a large section of her aorta.

After what seemed like a successful surgery, Parr’s heart started bleeding out as she was in the intensive care unit. Surgeons were not immediately aware of how to stop the bleeding, but eventually performed an open heart procedure to prevent the bleeding, and gave her a blood transfusion to bring her back to stability.

“You don’t realize how strong you are until you have to be,” Parr said. “People will tell me, ‘Wow, you’re so strong,’ but I didn’t have a choice.”

Parr was discharged 10 days after the surgery, and is currently in a six-week process of healing. Parr currently resides in Florida, where she has family to support her, and her church family that has been actively praying for her.

Parr is in the process of relearning how to place her weight around the house. The surgery has changed the way she takes a shower, brushes her teeth and even gets out of bed. Her muscles aren’t strong enough to lift her baby.

“It’s been very hard physically and emotionally,” Parr said. “But luckily, I have a really strong support system.”

Parr was originally planning to walk across the stage in December, but she is now looking forward to May, where all her family will watch her receive her diploma.

“Physically walking across the stage is intrinsic,” Parr said, in tears. “It’s my hard work, my seven years, having the surgery and defending my dissertation while pregnant, all coming down to physically walking.”

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