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St. Joseph's Health Connections

Sep 27 2013
Vent Patient Beats Odds and Goes to College
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People assume Erin Vallelly can’t do certain things. She was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy as a toddler, and has used a wheelchair and a ventilator since. But Erin is proving those people wrong.

“I can do the same things they can; I just have to try harder,” she says.

It’s how she was raised by her mother Mary and father Kevin.

“We raised her with the idea that there’s something that everybody can’t do,” Mary explains. “Her disability is just something that you can see.”

While many people in her situation would be homeschooled, Erin attended school in Dryden daily and just graduated in June. 

“I think Erin is an amazing person,” says Timothy Curtis, Respiratory Care Manager at Franciscan Health Support. “I’ve worked with her for 2 ½ years now and she’s an amazing inspiration.”

“She’s incredible,” adds Erin’s mom. “I think it’s amazing that she doesn’t really care when everyone thinks. She figured out what’s important for her which is remarkable for someone her age.”

Erin’s ventilator is provided by Franciscan Health Support. As a child, Erin’s ventilator weighed 60 lbs.

“We had to redo our house so her bedroom was downstairs,” Mary says. “It was difficult to go out…not because we cared what people thought, but because it’s just a lot of stuff to carry. It’s difficult to carry a toddler and a lot of equipment.”

Now, Erin has a portable ventilator from Franciscan that is the size of a laptop computer. It allows patients to be mobile and improves their quality of life. Because of its portability, Erin is able to go away to college in the fall. She is attending Wells College in Aurora.

“I liked that there were only 500 kids,” she says. “I didn’t want to be a number. That’s not for me. Everyone is super friendly, welcoming and really nice.”

Erin acts like it’s no big deal to go away to college – but experts say it certainly is.

“For her to graduate high school and go to college is phenomenal. In the 23 years I’ve been a respiratory therapist, I’ve never heard of that,” Curtis says.

“It’s pretty remarkable. It’s exciting for us. We are so proud of her,” says Mary.

At Wells, Erin plans to study business and psychology with the goal of becoming a professional fundraiser. She will need 24/7 support there, though. Her parents have been trying to find private nursing care in the Aurora area but it’s been difficult. So far, they haven’t had luck.

“It’s nerve wracking. If necessary, I will go to college and be with her. But what kid wants mom to go to college with her?” Mary says.

Either way, the Vallellys will make it work. Because seeing their daughter live her dream is worth it.

“All the work I’ve put in has paid off. I’m excited for the next chapter of my story,” says Erin.


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