Air Force vet finds purpose in helping amputees, burn victims
Pacific’s Chandee Pressnall ’18, ’20, with daughter Hailey, is heading down a path she hopes one day will allow her to fulfill her purpose of helping amputees and burn victims.Air Force vet finds purpose in helping amputees, burn victims
A gripping tale of a U.S. airman nearly killed in a missile attack, only to survive and become a motivational speaker, sent University of the Pacific's Chandee Pressnall '18, '20 down a path she hopes one day will allow her to fulfill her purpose of helping amputees and burn victims.
Pressnall, herself a 10-year Air Force veteran, was inspired to pursue a career in physical therapy after reading about fellow Airman Brian Kolfage. On his second deployment to Iraq in 2004, Kolfage sustained life-threatening injuries after a rocket exploded near him and severed both legs and an arm. He is considered the most severely injured U.S. airman to survive wounds suffered in war. Despite his injuries and being told that he would never walk again, Kolfage found the drive to regain mobility and even play sports.
"It could have been me while I was doing security operations," Pressnall said. "His determination and grit are what makes me want to work with veteran amputees."
Pressnall graduated from Pacific in May with a degree in Health and Exercise Science and is now in the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program. Besides being an Air Force veteran, she is Pacific's Department of Exercise Science Student of the Year for 2018. The award, typically given to a student with the best academic record who has gone to Pacific four years, was given to transfer student Pressnall based on her GPA and performance in health and exercise science classes. She also published and presented research at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in May in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For Pressnall, Pacific is her dream school.
"Pacific's small class sizes appealed to me, because I wanted to be more than just a number," said Pressnall, who was raised in Stockton. "I wanted to get to know all my faculty and peers and to be involved in the program."
Her daughter Hailey, now 10, started kindergarten when Pressnall enrolled as an undergraduate student at Pacific. Pressnall fondly recalls the two of them doing homework together and helping each other study, whether it was for Hailey's spelling test or Pressnall's kinesiology exam. For Pressnall, the positive outcomes outweighed the challenging moments.
"Working together isn't always possible, but over the years I have learned to manage my time well enough to get a term paper done and be able to go play at the park with my daughter," Pressnall said. Pressnall keeps her daughter involved with Pacific's campus by attending family events such as the annual Safe Trick or Treat and athletic competitions. She hopes that Pacific's environment will instill confidence in her daughter and prepare her for a smooth transition to college.
"I want to be the best possible role model for her," Pressnall said.
Pressnall also is motivated by her peers in the DPT program - including those who made her feel so at ease during the program's interview process - and is excited about becoming a physical therapist.
"The amount of support and resources that were offered to me during undergrad greatly influenced my decision to apply and choose Pacific for graduate school," Pressnall said. "When interviewing with the graduate program, I felt very at ease. It was obvious that the upperclassmen had developed a strong bond with each other, and they were excited to welcome in a new class and take us under their wing. Since being accepted, the current members of the program have gone above and beyond to ensure that the new students feel welcomed and prepared for the new journey."
Pressnall believes that her purpose is "to serve those who have served." Her goal is to work at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, a rehabilitation facility to treat amputees and burn victims, which exemplifies Pacific's mission to educate students to live their lives with meaning and service, and to live, learn and lead with purpose.