When the graduating class of the University of Texas at Dallas received their diplomas last month, it was a time for graduates and their families to reflect on the challenges they faced leading to their big day.
None faced more than Brian Roberson, who received his degree in history and secondary education.
Despite two strokes and a heart transplant, diabetes and seizures brought on by anti-rejection drugs, the 24 year old reached the day that he said he “always knew would happen”.
His mother, Yolanda Munson, wasn’t so sure. “No one thought he would accomplish that. We didn’t think he’d be here.”
The trouble began in early 2006, while a student at Prairie View A&M University. Brian picked up a cough from his roommate. While his roommate recovered, Roberson was not so lucky. The nagging cough was the result of Coxsackie B, an airborne virus. The virus in turn caused myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that affects about 1 percent of the population, mostly middle-aged men. It can rapidly progress to heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. Damage to the heart can also cause a stroke, as it did in Roberson’s case at the library in April 2006.
“I was working at the library and when a student asked me to get a biology book, I fell,” he said. “It was as if someone was beating my head with a hammer.”
When he awoke in the hospital a day later, the 17-year-old Prairie View A&M University student learned that he had survived not one but two strokes, including one a week earlier when his speech became garbled.
“When I woke up, I couldn’t talk, couldn’t sit up and couldn’t see,” he said. “My left side was paralyzed, and I couldn’t hear out of my right ear.”
7 months later, doctors said Brian would need a heart transplant due to damage from the virus.
His heart was so severely damaged that he immediately went to the top of the transplant list. Though the average wait for a heart transplant is about six months, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, Roberson got the call a month later, on Christmas Day 2006.
He continues to undergo extensive physical, occupational and speech rehabilitation. His vision returned, but he still struggles with walking, balance and some cognitive issues.
“I still have trouble forming sentences,” he said. “And sometimes I can’t think of very simple words.”
Despite those challenges, Brian continued working toward his goal.
“I just knew that graduation day would come,” he said.