She chose joy: Baylor senior defies incredible health challenges on path to graduation
Over the last eight years, Baylor senior Ashley Roper has somehow managed to smile through the pain. She’s lived her dreams of a normal college experience at Baylor, and soon, she’ll officially mark an accomplishment that would be meaningful for anyone — but is particularly special for someone who spent most of her high school years unable to leave her bed.
As a freshman in high school, Ashley began experiencing an almost unimaginable deluge of pain and symptoms: daily migraines, incredible stomach pain, digestive issues, back pain and fatigue. The experience of passing out grew to be a regular occurrence — as often as 20 times in a day. The combination of these ailments kept her in bed for 16-20 hours daily. Eventually, doctors determined that, among a variety of diagnoses, she suffered from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a degenerative connective tissue disorder, and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which causes a dramatically increased heart rate when a person goes from lying down to standing.
Faith had always been a cornerstone in Ashley’s life, and even in the midst of a shocking array of challenges, Ashley’s family noticed something special about her spirit.
“It was five days after her diagnosis,” her dad, David remembers, “that she came to me and said, ‘Dad, complaining isn’t going to make this any better. It just makes me feel worse.’”
If not complaining was one step, taking a positive approach would become even more of a foundational outlook for Ashley, who made “I choose joy” her catchphrase. She chose joy even as her high school experience shifted from campus and classrooms and fun with friends to being tutored at home, in bed. She also determined that she was going to have a normal college experience, enjoying the normal experiences denied her in high school.
When it came time to choose a college, Ashley’s parents prayed for the best, but inwardly worried that the conditions that kept her bedridden for more than 100 days of her junior year would keep a normal college experience out of reach. As they talked to different universities, some said they could not accommodate Ashley; others said they could, but subsequent communication revealed reality might not match their promises.
“None were really willing to work with Ashley on what she would need to have a chance at making it,” David says. “But Baylor did. They showed they were committed to help Ashley have a shot at making her dreams come true.”
Despite the ever-present realities of her condition, Ashley did her best, defying the odds and lasting through her freshman year, then her sophomore year, then her junior year, and then her senior year. Along the way, she found indispensable allies in Baylor’s Office of Learning Access and Accommodation, which enabled her to keep up with studies and tests when the strain of all she faced forced her to remain in bed, and in the professors who were always willing to help with whatever she needed. She also found the community she dreamed of — rushing Kappa Kappa Gamma, attending Baylor football games, and spending time attending friends’ weddings and parties and events.
This month, Ashley will walk across the Ferrell Center stage to receive her bachelor of science in family and consumer studies. A dean’s list honoree several times over, she’s lived the dream of a normal college experience, earned her diploma, and enjoyed experiences that prepare her to work with children as a licensed professional counselor.
“Ashley’s medical issues are difficult, but her faith is strong,” says her dad. “It’s mind-boggling. None of this would have been possible without the love and support of the Baylor community going the extra mile to help her have a chance at achieving her dreams. And she has.”
Sic ’em, Ashley!