Caring for a newborn while attending college would be challenging for any CSU student. But social work major Gia Heflin-Gilchrist never doubted that she’d graduate on time — despite the fact that her son Zeke was born 16 weeks prematurely and spent the first five months of his life in a Denver hospital.
Heflin-Gilchrist breaks into her signature grin when asked how she managed to keep up with classwork while taking care of her baby, who was born in October 2014 with a brain hemorrhage, a hole in his heart, underdeveloped lungs, anemia, jaundice and bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
“It was really hard, but I’m a positive thinker,” the Atlanta native says. “I just kept saying, ‘I’m graduating in December.’ I told my teachers that, I told the nurses in the hospital that. I set that goal, and nothing was going to stop me. I was getting the degree to help provide for my child. I just wanted to have a better life with him.”
While she was caring for Zeke in Denver, some of her CSU instructors allowed her to watch class via Skype. She switched her Fort Collins practicum to one based at a long-term care facility near the hospital. After Zeke stabilized, she commuted between Denver and Fort Collins until he was released from St. Joseph Hospital last March. Heflin-Gilchrist took him with her to summer classes, and faculty let her use their offices to nurse him.
The ROTC member is a reservist in the U.S. Army, where her husband, Aaron Gilchrist, is actively serving in Fairbanks, Alaska. She’s flying Atlanta relatives to Colorado to meet a now-healthy Zeke and see her graduate Dec. 19 with her bachelor’s degree in social work and a 3.0 GPA.
Heflin-Gilchrist, who recently completed an internship helping clients in the local public defender’s office, hopes to get her master’s in social work from CSU and open her own private counseling practice.
“I just felt like it was my calling,” she says of social work. “I like digging into the community and finding ways to help people.”