Growing up with a rare blood disorder, Michelle Nguyen has been around hospitals a lot. Now she wants to become a nurse and dedicate her life to making sick children smile.
Every month the Dunwoody resident spends five hours at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, getting a full blood transfusion to counteract the effects of Thalassemia – a disease that destroys red blood cells. She’s on a waiting list to receive a bone marrow transplant.
Not many Vietnamese donate organs or body parts, Nguyen said, so finding a perfect match has been frustrating.
“The transfusions are every month. It takes me away from school, and I fall behind a lot,” she said. “But I feel more compelled to work harder, and that’s why I want to become a nurse. I feel compassionate towards kids who are going though the same thing.”
Nguyen has already brought smiles to hospitalized kids. As a high school freshman, she won the 2013 Aflac Holiday Duck design competition. Every year, Macy’s sells the winning design to raise money for pediatric cancer. Nguyen’s duck was decked out for skiing.
Seeing nurses make a positive impact made Nguyen want to do the same. She especially loved one nurse, who explained her illness in ways Nguyen could understand as a child.
“I always need a support system whenever I go to the hospital,” she said, “so that’s what I want to do – help others feel it’s not just a hospital” but a place of belonging and hope.
Nguyen looked for those same qualities in a university as well. She toured Georgia College last spring with her mother and immediately felt at home.
The one-on-one connection faculty have with students here mirrors what she wants to achieve as a nurse. Last summer, she felt what it’s like to connect with a sick child. She befriended a little girl with Thalassemia, while volunteering at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
That girl recently received her bone marrow treatment. And Nguyen was there to cheer her on.
“Being with kids at the hospital, I just love seeing when they smile,” she said.