Amidst personal crisis, student learns the true meaning of ‘Baylor family’
No one would have blamed Maggie Plaster for dropping out.
Last spring, her husband, Jerry, suffered a hemorrhagic stroke on his brain stem; doctors told her that victims of his sort have only a 13% survival rate. Dealing with her husband’s condition (while also caring for their four children) made Maggie’s odds of finishing her master’s degree in social work look even worse, and so she told her professors in Baylor’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work that she was going to give up and drop out to care for her family.
But six months after Jerry’s stroke, he has defied the odds — and Maggie’s Baylor family has come together to make sure that she does, too.
Last March, Jerry — a 25-year Army veteran — was participating in training exercises in Louisiana when he was rushed to the hospital with stroke-like symptoms. (Both Jerry and Maggie are veterans; they met in the Army, where Maggie served for seven years.) Maggie, who was wrapping up her internship with the Veterans Affairs office and working towards her final project to complete her MSW degree, rushed to his side. There, she received the bad news: The stroke was massive, the likes of which approximately one out of 10 victims survive. Those who do survive often struggle to function at anything close to their old level.
After initial treatments failed to help Jerry, and other treatment options proved too dire to pursue, he returned home to hospice care, with Maggie providing 24-hour care. She told her Baylor social work professors that she was going to have to drop out. Her teachers and classmates responded by praying for Jerry, crying together with their classmate, and offering assistance as needed. But two of her professors, Helen Harris and Whitney Luce, took it a step further, giving her an “incomplete” so that she would at least have the option of returning to finish her degree down the line.
With Maggie almost constantly by her husband’s side, caring for his every need, Jerry has fought a battle befitting of a man who spent 11 years in Army Special Ops. His progress has been miraculous; while he is still very limited in what he can do for himself, he has made monumental steps on the road to recovery. Already he has sat up on the edge of his bed and even stood up with the aid of a walker. Soon, he’ll transition from hospice to rehab at Baylor Scott and White Health in Temple.
But while Jerry continues to improve, his condition is still such that he requires constant care — work that precluded Maggie from finishing her internships and capstone project. Once again, Maggie’s Baylor family stepped in to fill the gaps. Harris and Luce both took to Skype and Facetime to deliver lectures and discuss steps towards graduation, so that Maggie wouldn’t have to come to Waco. Long after the workday ended, they allowed Maggie to take classes from her home near Killeen, after she had put her younger children to bed.
Then, when Maggie needed two weeks to finish her internship, a former classmate stepped in. Matthew Williams, MSW ’16, was a member of Maggie’s original cohort in the School of Social Work and a fellow U.S. Army veteran; when he found out that Jerry was improving and Maggie had the opportunity to finish her degree, Matthew jumped at the chance to help. Leaving his home in Dallas for two weeks, he moved to Jerry’s bedside and cared for him like his own family member so that Maggie could complete her internship — which she recently did, putting her on track to graduate this December.
The Plasters still face uncertain days ahead. Doctors are unable to predict how much Jerry’s condition will improve, and he’ll continue to need intensive assistance in the future. Graduating is Maggie’s way of thanking Jerry for his support of her dreams.
“Jerry is my best friend and my No. 1 cheerleader,” she says. “He gave up the opportunity to go back into Special Ops to allow us to move to Texas and support my social work dreams. I was so worried that I wouldn’t be good enough for what Baylor was looking for, but he knew I would get in. The day I was accepted, I came back home from an appointment, and he surprised me with Baylor swag all over my desk. Baylor was a dream for me, but not an expectation. But he knew I could do it all along.
“For me, I want to finish to honor him. Quitting proved not to be an option. I’m so thankful for him and for my professors and classmates. They were so gracious. I found that when Baylor says, ‘You’re family,’ they mean it. They’re not hollow words. My husband and I are taking things one day at a time — we put one boot ahead of the other each day. But we’re truly blessed with the most incredible support system anyone could ask for. It’s bigger than us. If the world could bottle up what Baylor has done for me, the world would be a better place.”
Sic ’em, Maggie, Jerry, and Baylor Social Work!