A rock-solid character and a drive for her future allow one student to battle a life-threatening illness and earn her MBA in Leadership.
Stephanie Briggs was not yet even a teenager when the diagnosis came in: At the age of 11, she had cystic fibrosis, a debilitating, chronic lung disease that can shorten the life of children and young adults. The average life expectancy for someone diagnosed with CF: 37.5 years.
In the beginning, Stephanie carried on like anyone with her spirit would: she traveled, enjoyed camping, and kept up with her running. She earned her bachelor’s degree and married the love of her life. With medication, Stephanie continued being the strong, guiding individual she is.
But that changed in 2007 when her health took a turn for the worse. “I had gotten so many infections that I was having a harder time fighting them off,” she says. Her doctors warned her any further illness could end her life. “I was playing Russian roulette. The years were just adding up, and I was living day by day, not knowing how long I had.”
The only solution was a scary one: a double lung transplant. This choice was riddled with possibilities. Things could go well, or statistics could catch up. At the time, 10 percent of patients didn’t survive the first year post-transplant.
However, these statistics didn’t deter Stephanie. In March 2010 she received her new lungs. And, never once passing up the opportunity to advance her career and live her life to the fullest, she enrolled as an online MBA in Leadership candidate at Saint Joseph’s College one year later. She finished her coursework in December 2013 and marched at Commencement the following May, proving that success is always right around the corner for anyone, provided they give it their all.
Using her experience and education, Stephanie serves as an inspiration and guiding spirit for others as an admissions counselor and academic advisor for online students at Saint Joseph’s College. We took a moment to catch up with her, to celebrate her personal and professional achievements.
David Svenson: Was there an emotional connection between starting something new (the MBA) and starting a new stage of your life after the transplant surgery?
Stephanie Briggs: Before my transplant I was living to die. I knew my time was very limited and did not make any decisions that would be long term—it had been a really long time since I started something new.
Once I felt healthy enough, I realized I wanted to finish my MBA. The first year after a double lung transplant is a time of very high risk, so I made a goal to start the MBA program if I made it past the one-year mark.
DS: Was there any symbolism in this timing? Was this you pushing through these medical setbacks?
SB: It was only fitting that I started the MBA with a new set of healthy lungs. Every time I started and finished a course it was very emotional because it meant I was actually working toward a future goal, and actually completing it.
I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when I was 11. At that time I was told that most people with it did not live past 18, and I was determined to prove them wrong.
DS: You walked at the spring 2014 Commencement, successfully completing your MBA. Were you thinking of where you had come from, or where you wanted to go?
SB: My thoughts were toward my donor and his/her family. I would not have completed my MBA without the precious gift they gave me. I felt blessed.
I looked back at how much I had accomplished beyond the age of 18 (the median age of someone with cystic fibrosis in 1986) and the age of 34 (when I had my double lung transplant).
I also looked toward the future. What is next? I still have not come up with answer to that question, but I’m at least asking the question. I did not complete my MBA to change companies or make hundreds of thousands of dollars. My goal was to learn more about leadership and how I could incorporate it in my personal life and community.
To meet Stephanie, check out Saint Joseph’s College’s YouTube channel.
Q&A by David Svenson, Saint Joseph’s College’s communications officer and editor of Saint Joseph’s College Magazine.