Chelsea Burke (right)  and Andrea PoundThere was a point during her studies at UAB when Chelsea Burks didn’t know if she would graduate.

She was a freshman studying human resources management, eager to devour all UAB and the Collat School of Business had to offer. But a bout of mononucleosis turned out to be not as common for her as it usually is for other students.

Chelsea’s mono triggered a slew of life-threatening health problems that required numerous hospitalizations and nearly crushed her academic dreams.

"It is a genetic disease that affects my cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, immune, and neurological systems," said Chelsea. "UAB, Vanderbilt, Mayo Clinic, and others have worked tirelessly to figure out exactly what is wrong and to see if there is anything that they will be able to do to help."

Just like her doctors, Chelsea didn't give up. The management major was one of 319 Collat students who proudly graduated this spring term and can count themselves among the University of Alabama at Birmingham's newest alumni.

"I do not know where life is going to lead, but I do know that today is a happy day because I have finally achieved this goal and it means more to me than anyone will ever know," she said.

Chelsea credits the support she received from Collat’s faculty and staff with enabling her to achieve her academic goals despite her medical setbacks.

In August 2013, Chelsea began what she thought would be her final semester at UAB. But a sinus infection treated with an over-the-counter antihistamine/decongestant, coupled with her disease, caused a cardiac reaction that sent her to the emergency room.

"Over the next 10 months, I would medically withdraw from school, quit my job, go into cardiac arrest three times, be hospitalized six times, be put on complete bed rest, require home health care, have a port surgically inserted and become attached to an IV pole for 22 hours a day," Chelsea wrote in a letter to Collat Dean Eric Jack, praising the faculty and staff support she received. She said she nearly gave up on finishing school.

"However, there were two people at this school that never gave up on me," she said.

Chelsea credits her advisor, Andrea Miller Pound, and her internship mentor, human resource management professor Dr. Jack Howard, with encouraging her and providing special assistance every step of the way.

"I told Andrea that I wanted to graduate and she encouraged me, sometimes daily, to never give up," said Chelsea. Andrea, who was honored with UAB’s 2015 Outstanding Advisor Award, brought Chelsea flowers, magazines, lotion, and toiletries during one of her hospital stays.

"She was just so open and willing to help me. She was more than an advisor. We've really become friends," she said.

Dr. Howard, meanwhile, worked with Chelsea to deal with her illness and catch up where she needed. He even offered to teach her a class one summer that wasn't originally offered so she could stay on track.

"He has been a wonderful mentor and source of encouragement as I have faced all of the normal trials of a college student and my personal, abnormal trials," she said.

Others encouraged her as well.

"Dr. Molly Wasko helped make this semester happen," Chelsea said. "Jessica Smith was my first advisor, and she dealt with me when I began to get sick; all of the fears and drama of the unknown. So, I would like to say a big thank you to the entire Collat School of Business. I would not be graduating without the kindness and individual attention that everyone has shown me."

Chelsea is currently receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic, having walked across the stage at commencement April 25. She said choosing to attend UAB was the best decision she ever made, and she is proud to be a graduate of the Collat School of Business.

"I have friends who went to other universities, and they weren't treated the same way; they were a number on a file," she said. "At UAB, I felt like I mattered. That is what really sets UAB apart."