Christina-LedfordChristina Ledford was starting over when most people are just starting out. With three young kids to care for and a military marriage folding, she came home to Camden County, North Carolina from the west coast with barely the clothes on her back and pondered how to create a new future.

“I don’t ever want to be dependent on anyone again,” she told the Daily Advance newspaper in Elizabeth City. “I want a better life for me and my children.”

A chance conversation led her to apply for a grant through the North Carolina Workforce Investment Act in order to attend nursing school at College of the Albemarle (COL.) To her surprise, she was accepted to both programs. College of the Albemarle accepts only 35 students per year into its rigorous two-year RN program.

“The grant covers just about everything,” she marvels, “Tuition, books, uniforms, child care, even gas money.” She was also able to attend COL for a year to satisfy her prerequisites before starting the nursing program. It all seemed too good to be true, and just before starting the nursing program, an ominous new challenge reared its head.

“I was sick all that summer with kidney infections,” she recalls. It took a while, but eventually, her doctor diagnosed a form of chronic leukemia. “I was just moving into Stage 2, when it’s harder to treat,” she says, “But I started right in on oral chemotherapy.”

It made her sick, but she dived into nursing school with all the gusto she could muster. Unbeknownst to her, the chemo was affecting her birth control and she found herself pregnant. She stopped the chemotherapy and forged ahead with nursing school, determined to conquer every challenge. Her baby was born at 34 weeks in July of 2012 and is now doing well. She was back at nursing school within three weeks and completed the program on time.

Fast forward to a Sentara job fair. Nursing graduate Christina Ledford met nurse manager Julie Watters from the Advanced Heart Failure Unit at Sentara Heart Hospital, a highly specialized, technology-intensive unit that manages ventricular assist devices, artificial hearts and advanced arterial hypertension.  

“I look for aptitude and attitude,” says Watters. “I can’t teach attitude.” Christina was bright, Watters recalls, motivated and focused on quality care before she had even worked in a hospital. “She was eager to learn and showed great attention to detail,” Watters says, “and she’s not afraid of the technology, which is vital on our unit.” 

Christina has worked at Sentara Heart Hospital since June.  She sees her doctor for blood work every eight weeks.  Her last panel showed her leukemia is in remission. Family members help her with child care while she works nights and commutes from Camden County near Elizabeth City.  Her career goal is to work in trauma, but the intensive cardiac care she’s providing now is a great start.

Christina recently learned she has received official recognition from the State of North Carolina for ‘Excellence in Workplace Development’ for overcoming so much adversity to complete her education, become self-sufficient and support her family. The award ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in Greensboro, with 1,000 attendees, was the fanciest affair she had ever attended. She’s grateful for the recognition and determined to live up to the program’s expectations.  “Every dollar they invested in me,” she told the Daily Advance, “they’ll get back tenfold.”