A new lease on life for an international student

College can change your life.

It’s the place you come to start a new career, make life-long friends, and discover your true passion. But for one Mohawk College student, who asked that his name not be used, college did something more.

It saved his life.

Originally from India, he left his home country at the age of 20 to attend Mohawk College’s Computer Systems Technology program in 2016.

“I wanted to study abroad, something technical, so I applied to so many colleges and got a letter from three,” the student said. “Mohawk College was one of them.”

In November of 2017, he was nearing the end of his three-year program when suddenly, his life changed forever.

“I woke up and took a shower, but when I came into my room I felt a pain in my stomach,” he remembered. “It was a very sharp pain and I couldn’t bear it so I went to Mohawk College.”

“I was afraid,” he said. “I didn’t know who was going to help me, but I saw a security guard and told him I had pain in my stomach and he called an ambulance.”

When he got to the hospital, the seemingly-healthy 22-year-old was told something he never thought he would hear.

His heart valves weren’t pumping enough oxygenated blood to his body and he needed valve-replacement surgery … immediately.

“They scanned my heart and found I had a rare heart condition,” he said. “They told me it was an emergency and I needed to have surgery. I didn’t know what was going on.”

The student didn’t believe the doctors at first, being an active and healthy young man. He said they went through each symptom of his condition but he had none, and he never felt pain before or after the shower incident. Nevertheless, the doctors insisted he needed surgery if he wanted to live.

Still, he refused the treatment.

Maria Bracalenti works at Mohawk College’s International Student Services as an international coach. Bracalenti says when she learned about the situation, she decided to do something.

“I received a call from a social worker who said we had a student who had a serious medical condition and wasn’t listening to doctor’s orders,” Bracalenti said. “I reached out, and luckily, his friend Amrit knew and trusted me and convinced him to come and meet me.”

Together with Amrit, Bracalenti worked to persuade him to go for the surgery.

“She helped me a lot, she told me I would be okay and reassured me,” the lucky student said of Bracalenti. “She was always there for me.”

Along with Bracalenti, there were countless others who took it upon themselves to make sure he got the help he so desperately needed, one of them being his surgeon, Dr. Richard Whitlock of Hamilton General Hospital.

“I’ve never seen this kind of man in my life,” the student said. “He always talked to me on the phone, when I was afraid he never told me he was busy. He always replied to my e-mails and phone calls. He was a very nice person.”

There were also social workers, hospital workers, insurance agents and Mohawk College faculty like Keith Monrose, dean of international education, who supported him throughout the entire process.

Ultimately, he agreed to have the surgery in late November. The surgery was a success and he was even back at school for the beginning of the Winter semester – something Monrose couldn’t be happier about, considering what could have happened.

“[If he wasn’t here] he would have died,” Monrose said. “When he came into my office in January you could tell he was quite emotional because he realized that.”

Not even three months after his surgery, theĀ student says he feels the same as he did before the surgery – perfectly fine. He says he hopes to complete his program this year after being set back by the surgery and is slated to graduate in December 2018, after which he says he plans on finding a job in computer engineering in Canada.

One thing is certain. He says he will never forget his time at Mohawk College and all the people like Whitlock, Bracalenti, and Monrose who helped save his life.

About the author  ⁄ Andres Billiald

Andres Billiald is an aspiring journalist with a passion for writing. Andres has a love for film, writing and his better half. While an intern at the CBC's Hamilton Bureau, he covered everything from a bomb scare to a dispensary raid and even interviewed Rick Mercer. With more than 20 published stories for the CBC, Andres hopes to continue to grow as a journalist, gaining experience whenever the opportunity presents itself. http://abilliald.wixsite.com/website

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