Carmen Young said her mom was as healthy as could be for her age. She ate well, worked out every day, took her vitamins, and regularly got out of the house. So last January, when she told Carmen and her brothers that she had been diagnosed with leukemia, they were shocked.
More shocking, though, was how quickly the disease took her life.
“She was my best friend. She was my world. She was my everything,” Carmen said of her mom, who died weeks later in March of 2021. “She was the one that pushed me and motivated me all the time.”
With her mother no longer around, Carmen said she felt lost and unsure what to do with her life. The last few months had been difficult, and not just from coping with her mother’s untimely death. A mysterious, COVID-like illness nearly claimed her husband’s life a year earlier, and all of this made Carmen want to step up more for her family – for her children – as well as for herself.
And, she wanted to do something that would have made her mom proud.
So at the age of 41, she decided it was time to finally earn her high school diploma along with additional training that could help her move up in a field within which she’d already excelled: healthcare administration.
Based on the recommendation of a cousin, Carmen decided to visit the Encino campus of UEI College.
“I was definitely lost, and I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “And then I walked into the school, and even while I was still unsure at the time, I was like, ‘This is what my mom would want me to do.’”
Carmen enrolled in the Medical Billing and Insurance Coding Program at UEI College in Encino, where she’s excelled thus far by earning straight A’s and recently being named a campus Student Ambassador. And, despite being just over halfway through the program, the college has already helped Carmen reach her goal of earning her high school diploma through a third-party provider.
FINDING HOPE & MOTIVATION THROUGH DIFFICULT TIMES
Despite going through adulthood without a high school diploma, Carmen was still able to carve a solid niche for herself within the field of healthcare administration. She started by working in customer service for an insurance provider, then worked her way up to quality assurance.
“You know when you call in and they say, ‘This call’s being recorded’?” she said. “I was the one who would listen to the calls, evaluate the calls, and provide coaching to the associates who were on the phone.”
Carmen was pretty good at her job, too – so good, in fact, she was recruited to help start a quality assurance department within the appointment center of an area children’s hospital. Despite it being what she described as “one of the best jobs I’ve ever had,” however, Carmen eventually left after helping build the department. She felt she needed more time to focus on her children – three school-aged kids and two older step-sons.
“I had to quit to help out with family,” she said. “All my boys were going to three different schools, then COVID happened, making things even harder.”
And then, her husband got sick. Though the illness was COVID-like, he never tested positive for the disease. Yet, he had to be intubated for four and a half weeks, got a tracheostomy, experienced septic shock, and had to begin using a colostomy bag.
“We almost lost him last year,” Carmen said. “They called me twice and told me to prepare for the worst. And, because of COVID, I couldn’t be in the hospital with him. Then, after he was back home, I kind of had to be his nurse.”
The experience of caring for her husband actually made her consider a career in nursing, but Carmen came to realize she still loved the administrative side of healthcare. So, when her mother’s death inspired her to further her education, she decided to build from her previous work experience.
SURROUNDED BY MOTIVATION & SUPPORT
Carmen enrolled in UEI College’s Medical Billing and Insurance Coding program in June of 2021, and she immediately felt inspired by the people who work and attend classes at the Encino campus.
“Everyone here is really nice and really friendly,” she said. “My teacher (Samia Thomas) is amazing. When I met her, I just felt inspired. And my classmates … they welcomed me in and just helped me whenever I needed help. It’s become like a family with me.”
Samia also thinks just as highly of her student.
“Carmen is an inspiration to her classmates as well as me,” Samia said. “She is a hardworking mother and takes pride in her family, class, and classmates. She stepped up to be Ambassador and has been my right hand with events and projects since. She is an exemplary student and example of if you want something enough, you can do it no matter what.”
She was even able to find some common ground with, and encouragement from, Encino Campus President Jackie Azizyan.
“Ms. Jackie, the president at the school, lost her mom to cancer, too,” Carmen said. “Knowing we had these similarities really pushed me to be at this school.”
“Believe it or not, tough times often quickly dissolve into easier times, and Carmen has got what it takes to get past a tough time,” Jackie said. “Carmen is the only one who can decide how to end her story. Endings aren’t written by circumstances. They are written by people like Carmen. I am proud of her!”
Carmen was able to earn her high school diploma by September while, at the same time, achieving high grades in all her classes. While she is projected to complete the program during the spring of 2022, the education and training she’s currently receiving, combined with the years of experience she already has in the healthcare field, has her confident she’ll quickly establish a successful career following graduation.
“I feel fortunate to have the experience I have,” she said. “A lot of this all clicks together for me. Yesterday, I was looking at open positions, and all the experience that was necessary … I have all of it. I’m really excited about that because it’s like second nature to me now.”
Carmen’s long-term goal is to eventually start her own medical billing and coding office either at home or at an office close by. She also looks forward to one taking her family on a vacation together, something they’ve never been able to afford to do.
Regardless of what her future holds, however, she knows her mom will always be with her in spirit.
“Anything I did, she was just so proud of me,” Carmen said. “I definitely feel her pushing me to continue to finish and do my best – not just to come to the school and be here, but to actually come in and finish what I started. Life goes really fast, and I want to be able to take advantage of this opportunity and make her proud.”