From stroke survivor to scholar


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During her final semester at UCF, Alex Dixon was finally able to accomplish a task most students take for granted: reading a textbook on her own. For the Early Childhood Development and Education major, crossing the stage to start with her peers this summer seemed like a miracle a decade ago, instead of her hard work.

When Dixon was 10, she contracted pneumonia, which triggered a rare dysfunction that caused her brain to start attacking her body. She recovered from the infection, but continued to struggle with pain, muscle spasms, contortions and loss of function for two years as she visited specialists across the country who could not understand this that was wrong. By the time she entered sixth grade, she started using a wheelchair. At 12, she underwent a deep brain stimulation procedure as a last hope for a solution, but while being anesthetized, she suffered a stroke.

“It was incredibly scary,” says Juli, Dixon’s mother and UCF math teacher since 2000. “The stroke damaged the part of her brain that was killing her, but there was also quite a bit of collateral damage. As she came out of the coma, we were told that she may be in a vegetative state. Progress has been very slow over time, but she has come back.

This collateral damage includes being partially paralyzed on the right side and legally blind – able to see only half of straight ahead. Before Dixon fell ill, she was a happy, healthy child who took gifted lessons, played the piano, loved art, and wanted to be a vet when she grew up. After her stroke, she had to relearn all aspects of her life, normal bodily functions and the academics to who she was even. It was in this relearning process that Dixon found interest in teaching.

“I want to work in a preschool setting with students with disabilities and without disabilities and with special needs, in an inclusive setting, hopefully,” Dixon says. “The first years of life are so precious in building a foundation of education and play so that children are enthusiastic about learning and develop a positive state of mind towards it that will help them persevere more. late.”

“[Student Accessibility Services] helped me to be as independent as possible. [They] gave me the opportunity to show what I knew because I had the resources. – Alex Dixon, student at UCF.

With the support of her family and her own determination to improve, she slowly regained functions such as walking, speaking and completing her homework. Throughout middle and high school, an aide helped her get to and from class and complete her homework. When Dixon arrived at UCF in 2016 she no longer needed any help, but throughout her time here she used Services available to students for support.

“They helped me to be as independent as possible,” Dixon says. “I still had a hard time reading at first and even now sometimes, so they gave me different technology, like reading software on my computer. They helped me get a note taker and a smart pen to capture what my teachers were saying, a reader for testing, and extra time if I needed it. It gave me the opportunity to show what I knew because I had the resources.

Gaining independence through daily tasks, such as commuting and moving around a large campus like UCF, shopping, doing laundry, and nurturing relationships, has been just as important to her development as her studies. Her parents, who lived 15 minutes from campus before she enrolled at UCF, even moved further afield so that she had to do these things on her own.

“If we hadn’t moved, she wouldn’t have stopped coming home and we wanted to push the boundaries of her independence,” her mother says. “I think every parent has these tensions of how much we support and how much we use a little hard love to push our children to reach their full potential. With a child with special needs, I think the choices are harder and the potential outcomes are greater. It was terrifying to drop her off and put her in the dorm. I remember very clearly having these thoughts, “What have we done? But then I’m like, “What we did was give Alex the opportunity to be independent.”

Alex Dixon holds up his decorated grad cap outside UCF Creative Children’s School. (Photo by Nick Leyva ’15)

Dixon has also been involved with the UCF chapter of the Student Council for Exceptional Children, an international organization dedicated to improving the academic outcomes of disabled and / or gifted students. As part of her college program, she interned at the Conductive Education Center in Orlando, which works with children with motor impairments and disabilities. She has also completed volunteer experiences in local schools including UCF Creative School for Children, which she attended as a child.

“Alex was always a polite and bright kid who was able to do really simple things that other kids couldn’t do,” says Giatry Bacchus, an administrative assistant at CSC who taught Dixon when she was younger and witnessed his volunteer work. “Her family has always been very involved with her and what was going on at school. As a volunteer she was able to help us with anything we needed and she improved throughout her stay here. Seeing where she’s been from so far is amazing, and the support she’s received shows a family that hasn’t let Alex down or given up hope – and that’s a blessing.

Although Dixon’s recovery was difficult, it strengthened her family bonds and gave them a chance to help others. Using information from each family member, Juli and Dixon’s sister, Jessica – a senior at FSU who was inspired to study neuroscience because of her – even published a book, A stroke of luck, to share their experiences with other people living in similar circumstances. Dixon also traveled the country as a motivational speaker with her mother and sister. This lawsuit was sparked by his first lecture in 2013, which was given at UCF.

“UCF is a big place, and people can get lost in big places. … Even though it’s huge, it gave the community and Alex’s support – for one person to be successful – and I think it’s special. – Juli Dixon, Alex’s mother and professor at UCF

“UCF is a big place, and people can get lost in big places,” says Juli. “It was hard to make a choice. But the combination of what Alex brought to his experience at UCF and what UCF provided to Alex was a great game. Alex has learned and grown so much over the past five years. Even though it’s huge, it’s offered the community and Alex’s support – for one person to be successful – and I think it’s special.

As graduation approaches, Dixon has already been accepted into the master’s program for early childhood development and education at UCF. She also interviewed for teaching positions in local public and private schools. And the day after graduation, Dixon and his family will travel to North Carolina to pick up his service dog, a goldendoodle named Dunkin – a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle – which will help him in class. , at work and in complete safety. access to public transport.

“It’s a relief to have graduated and I’m especially proud to have done it on time with my peers,” she says. “I’m still thinking about my future and getting better, but everyone is improving. “

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