May 13 2019
NRCC Graduate has a Heart for Nursing
Mia Echols, NRCC Graduate Profile
You could say Mia Echols has a heart for nursing. At 26 years old, you’d never know this petite, articulate, dedicated New River Community College nursing student bears a physical scar that to the average person might indicate a challenge. But to her, it’s really no big deal. In fact, it’s her motivation.
Originally from Danville, the daughter of a single mom and sister to an identical twin, Mia’s first days of life weren’t quite as normal as most infants. After spending some time in the neonatal intensive care unit after her birth, which isn’t all that uncommon in twins and preemies, Mia was diagnosed with pulmonary valve stenosis, a congenital heart defect typically found at birth. As a result of her diagnosis, she had to undergo open heart surgery as a preemie and then again in fifth grade.
In 2015, she underwent another surgery, and this time her cardiologist replaced her valve with one created by Edward Lifesciences, a California based company. The company was interested in learning more about Mia and her lifestyle post-surgery, so they invited her to tour their facility in southern California. For her 23rd birthday, she boarded her first plane and traveled to Orange County. She’s since been back to California again to present her personal story to their clinical team. This spring, Edwards Lifesciences came to the New River Valley and filmed a “day in the life” video at NRCC about Mia’s life as a nursing student. The educational video is designed to focus on congenital heart disorders and how patients continue living their daily lives after surgeries.
Mia doesn’t expect any additional surgeries for at least 15 years, and she feels no long-term effects from any of the procedures. In fact, she’s able to lead a normal life free from pain, except for the occasional heart burn caused by nursing school final tests and exams that come with the program’s last semester. The rigorous demands of the program are something she’s learned to love, though.
Mia began her higher education at Radford University, where she and her sister went after high school. Initially, she had dreams of becoming a cardiologist so she could help other patients the same way she had been helped. But the length and cost of medical school ultimately changed her plans, and she decided that becoming a nurse would bring her the same opportunity to serve patients and would provide a chance to get to know them more personally. She began the nursing program at Radford but eventually changed course and received a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, got a job, and continued living in Radford.
“Radford turned into our new hometown,” she recalled.
But she just couldn’t shake her desire to be a nurse so she could help others the way she’d been helped during her surgeries. She became a certified nurse aide and began the process of going back to school to become a registered nurse. She found NRCC to be exactly what she was looking for. With a lower tuition rate than other programs and the opportunity to stay in Radford and work her clinical rotations close to home, she entered NRCC determined to complete her degree. Since she had already taken some nursing classes, the coursework wasn’t completely new to her. But the second time, the information really began to click, and she found herself more focused and more able to take on the hard work that the program requires.
Mia wants to make sure that people understand the rigors of a two-year program are very similar to a four-year program.
“The program was equally as hard. It pushes you the same way. The stress level is the same, and the amount of focus required is the same,” she said. “I love the program. Our teachers made sure we knew what we were doing but also gave us the autonomy to do it.”
Mia thinks the friendships are the best thing about NRCC, both with fellow students and the faculty and staff she’s had the opportunity to meet along the way.
At a ceremony on May 10, Mia walked across the stage at her nursing graduation and received her heart’s desire—her nursing degree. After a week of relaxation, she’ll be going straight to work at her new job at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. NRCC isn’t the end of her educational journey. She wants to continue her education and earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing in the future. But above all, she wants to invest in her patients and to shower them with the compassion that she’s been fortunate enough to receive.
“You give to them. They give to you, too,” she said of caring for patients, especially those with cardiac health issues. She feels as though she and her patients can be an example to each other in battling heart disorders. “If he can, I can too. If I can, she can too.”
Although the nursing program at NRCC has been challenging, Mia has been able to find some downtime to do the things she enjoy such as reading, shopping, and watching a few movies, especially Marvel movies. For example, she was recently able to catch the new release of “Avengers: Endgame.” But don’t worry—she won’t give away the ending.