Last year, UA Little Rock student Griselda Delgado Torres had an experience that is unusual to most graduating seniors.
She completed the final semester of her bachelor of social work degree from a hospital bed in the intensive care unit, where she had just spent two weeks on a ventilator and feeding tube recovering from pneumonia.
“I have an autoimmune disease called myasthenia gravis (MG), and a lot of things can exacerbate my symptoms,” Torres said. “I ended up in the ER after I caught a cold from my son. This is how I ended the semester, going to Zoom classes, taking finals and working on final exams from my hospital bed. Luckily, I tend to work ahead and I was able to graduate on time. I don’t think a lot of people have this experience during finals. For me, I had to leave college once before because of my disease, and I didn’t want to do it again.”
A native of California, Torres was still in high school when she was diagnosed with MG, a chronic autoimmune, neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles.
“I enrolled in a community college in 2008,” she said. “In 2009, I started experiencing a lot of symptoms, and I was in and out of the hospital. I dropped out after a semester because I was missing so much class. For a long time, I forgot about college and didn’t think it was doable for me because of my condition.”
After leaving community college, Torres got married, her husband Serio began working as an associate director of the diocesan Faith Formation Office and four years later, they had their son, 9-year-old Serio. Even as life moved on, the member of St. Theresa Church in Little Rock never gave up on her dream of finishing college and finding a job where she could help people.
“As a person with an autoimmune disease and having a child with special needs, I understand that navigating the system and finding resources and finding resources on your own is not easy,” Torres said. “My mother is not an English speaker, and I would see how she would struggle. I, as a parent, have struggled with finding resources and help for my child. I wanted to find a career that would allow me to help others. Being bilingual, I figured I would be able to help twice as many people. That’s how the idea of becoming a social worker started.”
So, Torres enrolled in the online bachelor of social work program in 2020, where she found enormous inspiration from her instructor Morgan Leyenberger.
“At that time, I was really struggling with my autoimmune disease,” she said. “We did a lot of public speaking in Zoom classes. One of the things that is affected is my speech. At that time, I was feeling unmotivated and close to quitting school. I felt like this condition was preventing me from being a valuable asset in the social work field because of the way my speech sounds. Morgan was super helpful and encouraged me to continue my education. It was encouraging to have someone in the field who does not see my health condition as a reason to quit on my dream.”
Tammy Carpenter, Torres’ good friend and fellow graduate, describes Torres as a “warrior.”
“Griselda has a no-excuse approach to life,” Carpenter said. “She is an unstoppable force with grit and determination, demanding this disease will not hold her back. In addition to living with MG, she has a beautiful boy with a dual diagnosis of down syndrome and autism. She faces the challenges of being a mother, wife, friend, and an advanced standing honors student with courage and grace. She has an incredible work ethic and genuinely cares for others and credits her husband's support and their faith. Sometimes MG causes her to struggle with speaking, but this disease will not steal her voice.”
As a Hispanic woman, she advocates for the Spanish-speaking population. Before going back to college, Torres worked as an English to Speakers of Other Languages paraprofessional in Bryant Public Schools. Additionally, she worked as a social work intern at El Zocalo Immigrant Resource Center in Little Rock.
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree last year, Torres began the master’s degree in social work program as an advanced standing student. After graduating for a second time this May, she will begin work as a social worker and case worker at World Services for the Blind, where she has worked as an intern since August 2022.
“It’s been an amazing experience, and my internship is actually the first time I’ve been around people who are blind and visually impaired,” Torres said. “I get to do case management, group therapy, individual therapy, staffings and help clients apply for services and equipment. They motivate me so much. It’s been a really rewarding experience for me.”
As she reflects on the end of her college journey, Torres said that she has struggled juggling schoolwork, internships and her home life, but it has all been worth it in the end.
“It’s been challenging, but my son is also my motivation,” Torres said. “Having him and knowing that I will be better educated and be a better advocate for him is what has pushed me to continue to succeed.”
Article courtesy of UA Little Rock.
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