Class of 2017: CWU graduate to walk after becoming paralyzed

June 10, 2017 GMT

Before one of Cheryl Ann Eadie-Perry’s main father figures died in 2009, he instilled a dream in her — that it was never too late to go back to school.

Eadie-Perry followed that dream down a long, difficult road, and with every obstacle that confronted her, a new dream was born. Those dreams will be realized today when she walks — despite becoming partially paralyzed due to complications with a knee surgery — with her graduating class of 2017 and accepts her bachelors of fine arts degree from Central Washington University.

Eadie-Perry, who is in her early 60s, moved to Ellensburg in 2010 when her son accepted a job at CWU. She decided to enroll shortly there after. A lifelong bookkeeper and tax practitioner, she decided to pursue a certified public accountant’s license.

She had an apartment just off campus and rode her bike to class.

“I did everything like a regular college student,” Eadie-Perry said with a smile, “but my knees were really bothering me very bad.”

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She visited an orthopedic surgeon, who suggested she should have surgery on her knees. After a successful operation on her left knee, she went back to have her right knee done — but instead of the general anesthesia this time, the doctors decided at the last minute to use an epidural injection.

During the surgery, Eadie-Perry said the needle punctured her spinal cord, and a normal three-day stint in the hospital ended up being 10 days. She experienced excruciating pain in her back, which she felt odd since it was a knee surgery. She also could not urinate.

“During my stay at night the pain would be so far, I even begged God to take my life,” Eadie-Perry said. “I’d given birth to a child, so I knew what pain was, but this was pain that I didn’t understand.”

She was transported to a nursing home, and then to a hospital in Moses Lake, where they discovered her bladder was as big as a six-month-old fetus. After taking care of that, they discovered she was paralyzed.

Eadie-Perry spent the next few months in and out of different hospitals, nursing homes and spinal injury wards, where the conclusion was she’d probably never walk again.

By the time she returned to CWU, it was 2013, and she was accompanied by a red walker that through hard work with physical therapy, allowed her to move around again.

Flipping a switch

Growing up, Eadie-Perry had always been a math wizard. Being a single-working mom, she ran her own business as a bookkeeper.

“You give me something and I could just spit it out,” she said. “There was nothing I couldn’t do in accounting, there was nothing I couldn’t do in mathematics.”

When she returned to the classroom in 2013, she still had to finish some of her basic classes, and when she earned a C- in a math class, she knew something was wrong. Despite feeling comfortable with the material and confident in her abilities, the material just seemed to jump all over the page.

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She took another math class just to be sure, and earned another C.

“It blew me away,” Eadie-Perry said, who talked about the issues with her doctor. “When your body goes through such trauma … I kind of went left to right brain.”

At the same time however, Eadie-Perry was discovering a talent that she had either never known she had possessed, or never possessed: art.

“Never in my life did I think I was artistic,” she said. “Never, ever.”

Yet the grades were rolling in as she experimented more and more. Photography: A. Painting: A. Sculpture: B+. Ceramics: A. Eadie-Perry embraced her new passion — and with the help and support of the art department, her fellow students, CWU’s disability department and her friends and family, she continued to pursue her dream of higher education.

“The kids were wonderful,” she said. “My fellow students were the best. They accepted me for the way I am. I was able to go to school and not feel ashamed despite 1) being 58 years old and 2) not being able to function (normally).”

Walking into senior year

As Eadie-Perry conquered one obstacle after another during her pursuit of a bachelors degree, a clear vision crept into her head: actually walking during the graduation ceremony in real shoes, with no braces and no walker.

This dream saw her spend hours in a pool her husband bought for her, as well as riding a tricycle up and down the street to build up strength. When she strolled into her first classes in fall 2016, her classmates and teachers noticed something was a little different. She was walking on her own.

“You never saw me without my walker,” Eadie-Perry said. “It blew all the teachers away.”

The next step was to pick out the perfect shoes. Eadie-Perry and her husband took a few trips to Fred Meyer to see what they had, but both times returned empty handed. Disappointed and upset, she went into her bedroom, only to realize she had the perfect red shoes hiding in the bottom of her closet that had been there for years.

Reminiscent of Dorothy’s shoes from Wizard of Oz, the pair matches the crimson graduation gown she’ll be wearing today.

“It’s like a ‘Wizard of Oz’ situation,” Eadie-Perry said. “You put those shiny red shoes on and they go click click and I’m home. I’ve made it.”

After graduation

Last Christmas, Eadie-Perry received a phone call from CWU’s financial aid office, who told her she had received a $5,000 scholarship from the Muckleshoot Tribe to continue her education.

As Native American, she decided that after a break to help her biological father this summer, she would return to Central to pursue a teaching certificate to pair with her BFA so that she could teach art to Native American children.

“(I want to) have them learn art of their own culture,” she said, “To be proud of what they are and make art the way they see it.”

After almost a decade of turbulence, Eadie-Perry knows one thing for sure — it’s never too late to go back to school.

“I want anybody who has a disability to know, no matter what it is — physical, mental, it doesn’t matter — the only person that can stop you is yourself,” she said. “Go for your dreams and you’ll find you can achieve it, especially getting an education. It’s never too late to get an education, no matter how old you are.”