May 12, 2005

2005 Vanderbilt nursing grads who overcame adversity available to comment for commencement stories

Three graduates from Vanderbilt‘s School of Nursing overcame tough odds to earn their degrees. They are available to share their stories as Vanderbilt observes commencement exercises May 13.

Candace Riehl
is a 42-year-old graduate in the Women‘s Health Nurse Practitioner
Program. She realized she wanted to be a nurse-midwife after becoming
pregnant as a teenager and receiving help during her delivery from a
nurse-midwife in a free clinic. After giving birth, she dropped out of
high school and entered the Army. She later earned a GED and married.

Riehl was working at a 7-11 store about 18 months
after her second child was born when she decided she could do much more
with her life. “I kept thinking, a long journey starts with the first
step. I knew I had a long walk to take. I had to take the ACT tests,
remedial math, remedial reading,” she said.

She earned an associate of applied science in
nursing degree and a certificate for nurse-midwifery, and then began
working at a small clinic in Mayfield, Ky., where she continues to
practice today. Riehl had two other children, both delivered by

The once-troubled teenager and high school dropout
earned a 4.0 at Vanderbilt and will graduate with the school‘s most
prestigious honor, the Founder‘s Medal. She was diagnosed with
relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in 1998 and has been
hospitalized twice, but says she‘s able to live a full life between
relapses and is now considering pursuing a doctoral degree ñ maybe even
from Vanderbilt.

John Lavender
is a 60-year-old minister and graduate in the Family Nurse Practitioner
Program. Lavender was already a trained registered nurse and a pastor
at Emmanuel Sabbath Assembly in Huntsville, Ala., when he first
enrolled at Vanderbilt. He was busy preaching and leading community
projects while trying to manage being diagnosed with diabetes, when he
quickly realized he couldn‘t fit in school. He backed out of the
program, but returned a little over a year later to finish.

“I had so many irons in the fire, I decided I better
not get into it right now. I didn‘t think I was ever going to come
back. But I did, and I stuck with it,” said Lavender.

Lavender has passed his board examinations and hopes
to begin working in a community clinic in Huntsville this summer, as
well as continue his ministry. He has conducted ministry in
Africa and is a Vietnam veteran.

Terri McLeroy
is the director of nursing and manager of the Sub-Acute Care Unit in
Medical Center North at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She
went back to school to earn her master‘s degree from the School of
Nursing while continuing to work at the Medical Center. She said it
wasn‘t easy juggling her work while taking classes. She often found
herself running from a classroom at the School of Nursing over to
Medical Center North and back again.

In the midst of keeping up the frenzied pace, her
husband died. McLeroy said it was a devastating blow, but despite her
pain, she didn‘t want to give up on her goal.

“I have two high school-aged daughters, and I wanted
to show my children that this is possible,” she said. “That you can go
back to school and get a degree while managing a career and a family.”

McLeroy will mark another important milestone in her
life at Vanderbilt next month. Through the healing process, she met
David Hartman, a maintenance painter at Vanderbilt Children‘s Hospital.
They fell in love, and he asked for her hand in marriage. The couple
will wed June 10 in the Children‘s Hospital chapel.

Media contact: Heather Hall, (615) 500-8433

Melanie Catania, (615) 322-NEWS