United Way offers student a lifeline

Campaign has raised $506,327 (or 69.9 per cent) of the university’s $727,000 goal for 2012. Visit unitedway.uwo.ca for up-to-the-minute details.

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It’s safe to say the helping hand of a United Way of London & Middlesex-funded agency made a huge difference in the life of Western Nursing student Valerie Christie.

“We can only guess where I’d be (without them),” said the 22-year-old Ontario native. “But I am very confident in saying I would not be here.”

Heading off to Dalhousie University five years ago to study Kinesiology, Christie was looking forward to her time at school. With a passion for running, she was also anticipating being part of the track team.

“Running was my way of dealing with everything in life – good or bad,” said Christie, who made the team without a problem.

But an early injury put her running on hold. Eager to get back, she was sent for X-rays, an MRI and went through physiotherapy. While doctors could find no specific injury, Christie was not getting any better and the frustration of not being able to run was setting in.

“They ended up saying it was some psychosomatic thing and they never quite figured it out,” she said. “It was really frustrating for me. I couldn’t run and things just began to get worse at school.”

Christie would soon quit school and return to Ontario. Landing in London, she tried to go to school for nursing, but couldn’t make that happen. She was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.

Then, last September, Christie attempted suicide. While in hospital, she dealt with multiple seizures and, at one point, was in a coma for four days.

For the next few months, Christie would find herself landing in and out of hospital, not able to work, and homeless. With friends in the city, she would couch surf, not knowing each night where she would be sleeping.

Getting back to her love of running, a major therapeutic outlet for her, Christie began training for triathlons with a local coach.

“She became aware of the fact I was couch surfing and knew about a local organization and had me check them out,” she said.

Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), a United Way-funded agency, helps at-risk, transient and street youth access basic services and offers a safe resource centre, informal counselling and support.

They were able to get Christie into the Cornerstone, which offers housing services designed to meet the needs of at-risk youth.

It was just what Christie needed at that point of her life. After spending five and a half months at Cornerstone, she found her own place in London and began speaking on behalf of YOU to various organizations about her experiences.

She is now three months into her Nursing degree at Western.

“I’m a lot better now than I was then, but sometimes it gets me really frustrated and angry that people simply assume things,” Christie said. “Other times you find people to be more understanding than you expect them to be, which is really nice.”

And it’s her past health-care experiences that drew Christie to want to be a nurse.

“I had bad health-care experiences, with a lot of nurses kind-of treating me like I’m not a human being because of my mental illness, because of the stigma around suicide,” she said. “But then there have been a couple nurses who have been awesome and so helpful.

“I think nursing is the best profession to help people. It is a personal relationship. I want to be nurse so that other people don’t have to go through the experience like I did.”