‘I don’t make excuses for myself’: Rare diagnosis inspires Riverview grad to become a pediatric nurse

It's been a long road for Ashley Kersey and it's about to take an exciting turn. The Riverview High School senior will be graduating in just a few days. And she has a whole team of cheerleaders from the principal right beside her.

Principal Ivin Gunder, who most know as Mr. G, said Ashley left a mark on all of them.  

"Man, I was just inspired," he said, "I see her all the time, we talk."  

Ashley missed most of her high school days. Her time was spent at the Mayo Clinic instead.  

Photo Credit: Ashley Kersey

These last few years have been filled with a flurry of IVs and hospital stays -- so many she's lost count. During her sophomore year, things took a scary turn.  

"It went from me being healthy to me having multiple chronic illnesses that currently don't have a cure," she said.    

Rarely did she lose her spunky spirit. Junior year, though, was hard.  

"I really didn't talk much about it. It was almost shameful. So it took a while for me to accept that I have a feeding tube, but now that it's not on my face it's not as noticeable," she said, showing the port now hidden on her abdomen.  

Photo Credit: Ashley Kersey

Her body cannot digest food. She has to carry what she needs every day in her backpack - a tube connects the port to the nutrient formula her body needs to survive.  

Her books and laptop are piled inside too, but she's found a way to make it work. Even at her sickest, Ashley insisted on using heart-shaped tape to secure the feeding tube, making the best of it.  

Her mom Tracy has been there every step of the way on this journey.  

"She's always trying to make people smile, always thinking of others," she said with a smile.  

Photo Credit: Ashley Kersey

Senior year came with a rare diagnosis: gastroparesis or stomach paralysis. It will be something she manages for the rest of her life.  

"I don't make excuses for myself. If there's a due date [for] the rest of the class, I have the same due date whether I'm in the hospital or not because I'm not going to let my health get in the way of the thing I want most in life and that is a success," she said.

She means it, too. She's only had one "B" this entire time. She'll be graduating with honors, and her diagnosis ignited her dream to become a pediatric nurse.

"When I'm admitted, there was never a doctor or nurse who can say they know how certain things feel," she said. "They don't know what it feels like getting a feeding tube put in. I do. I feel like I would be able to help kids because I know exactly how it feels."

"She started off wanting to be a doctor for so long," her mom said, "But after all these hospital stays she said, 'I think I'd rather be a nurse. They do so much.’"

It's a good thing Ashley got a merit scholarship worth $100,000 to become a pediatric nurse at Mayo Clinic one day, courtesy of Jacksonville University. Instead of a three-hour drive every time to the Mayo Clinic, it's now just 20 minutes away.  

It's a blessing for a mom and dad who prayed so hard for their daughter. Ashley will never forget the day she got the news.  

"The three of us, we were all outside, speechless. There were no words. I knew it was meant to be and it was perfect," she recalled.

Pictured: 'Mr. G' and Ashley Kersey (Photo provided by Ashley)

So you see what Principal Mr. G means when he says she's inspired him.  

"That's her purpose and I think she'll be an inspiration to many," said Mr. G also a Jacksonville University alum, "but it's also how she's giving back and we need more positive ripple effects in this thing we call life."