(Editor’s Note: As Commencement nears, WVU Today will occasionally feature some of the University’s most dedicated graduates. Here is the story of one of those outstanding students.)
For soon-to-be pharmacy school graduate Crystal Mayles being busy is an understatement.
Mayles, of Keyser, is a wife and mother of two children – her oldest of which has Down syndrome. She and her husband, Abraham, found out she was pregnant with their first child around the same time Mayles was accepted into West Virginia University’s School of Pharmacy.
“Even though we were surprised to find out that we were pregnant, my husband encouraged me to continue following my dreams,” she said.
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At that time, Mayles and her husband weren’t aware that their daughter, Elleyana, had Down syndrome.
“It was very hard, but we also knew a lot about resources and what was available,” she said. “It wasn’t a horrible sentence or negative all the time, we were able to find the positive.”
In the first two years of Elleyana’s life, she underwent a total of six surgeries. During that time, classmates, faculty and staff at the School of Pharmacy made sure that Mayles always had a home-cooked meal.
Mayles’ goals to complete her schooling kept her going.
“School was my rock,” she said. “If it wasn’t for school, I don’t know if we ever would have made it. When things were falling apart I knew I needed to go to school. I had a C-section on Thursday and was back to school on Monday. It took my mind off things I couldn’t control.”
Shortly after Mayles and her husband were told their daughter wouldn’t need any more surgeries for a while, they found out they were expecting their second child – a healthy boy, Izaiah.
--Crystal Mayles 2011 Pharmacy graduate
“We thought we were going to get a break for a while, but we were wrong,” she laughed.
Izaiah’s birth turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Elleyana and he are now able to learn from each other.
“They grow and learn together, and experience the world at the same pace,” she said.
The key to juggling Elleyana and Izaiah’s needs with being a full-time student, has required scheduling everything to a tee, Mayles said.
Abraham gave up his job as a social worker to work nights to support the family, and they take turns spending time with the children so that Mayles is able to keep up with her school work. Mayles’ mother also helps tremendously, she said, by taking the children every other weekend.
“It has made going through school hard, but it was a blessing,” she said. “When I graduate it will certainly make that moment that much better. I will probably cry the whole time.”
In addition to her school work and family life, Mayles is also an avid supporter of Special Olympics. For the past three years she has organized the School of Pharmacy’s participation in the Polar Plunge, an event that asks people to donate money to jump into the river on a cold day.
Her professors and classmates have been regular supporters.
“I realized that many people are scared of people with mental disabilities and thought this was a good way to bridge the gap between the population that is underserved and the people that could someday use them,” she said. “I also want people to know that these people are people too and that once they were someone else’s baby.”
Mayles plans on completing a residency at a hospital following graduation. Her ultimate goal is to work in a hospital setting, where she will be able to collaborate with physicians and work directly with patients.
Her WVU experience is something she would not have changed for the world.
“It has been phenomenal,” she said. “I have had more support here than I doubt I would get anywhere else.”
By Colleen DeHart
WVU University Relations/News
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