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NSU student overcomes health complications to complete degree

Mother of five struggled with lupus after diagnosis

Marisol Martinez has good days and bad days. On the good days, she can function at a mostly normal level. On the bad days, she’s on medication and confined to her bed.

Marisol Martinez

This has been the reality for the last two and a half years after Martinez, a mother of five, was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the body.

“I’m always in pain and can get sick very easily,” she said.

The diagnosis came while Martinez was pursuing a Mental Health Counseling degree at NSU’s Miami-Kendall campus and a practicum at the Thelma Gibson Health Initiative in Coconut Grove. Aside from the physical pain from the disease, there was also the psychological struggle in finding support and understanding.

“A lot of people don’t know how we struggle,” Martinez said. “I looked for a support group, but there was nobody to talk to. The hardest thing is to deal with this by yourself.”

Martinez ended up finding support in the form of her classmates and College of Psychology Visiting Professor Elda Kanzki-Veloso, Ph.D., who encouraged Martinez to stay with the program.

“She was in an out of the hospital, but still managed to get to work and raise her kids,” Kanzki-Veloso said.

There came a point near the end of the program where Martinez felt like giving up - the constant physical pain and depression made her question the point of staying in school. But Kanzki-Veloso made a deal with Martinez: if she finished the last bit of school, Kanzki-Veloso would attend commencement with her. The deal was made and came to fruition in summer 2016 during the commencement ceremony at NSU’s Main Campus in Fort Lauderdale.

Marisol Martinez

“I was very happy and couldn’t believe I’d graduated after so many struggles,” Martinez said. “Walking a block for me is like walking 10 to 20 miles.”

Kanzki-Veloso said mutual support helped Martinez and other members of her cohort deal with personal struggles.

“We all go through hard things, but the way we go through them makes us or breaks us,” Kanzki-Veloso said.

Martinez intends to use the skills gained at NSU to be the person she needed and counsel others who have lupus. In the short term, she’s working on improving her health before taking a job anywhere. Martinez still has good days and bad days with hospitalizations, but she is glad that she finished her degree even with all the obstacles.

“I would have regretted not finishing,” Martinez said. “Anyone who has lupus, I would encourage them to continue and not stop. It’s painful, but you have good days, and that’s when you go study.”