Coming to terms with a rare autoimmune disease culminated in a career change for Hope Dela Vega ’93, who transferred from the high-tech world of being a WEB developer to become a physical therapist. Hope currently works in Encinitas, CA, about 20 miles north of San Diego, at Scripps Memorial Hospital. She provides physical therapy to inpatients and outpatients with neurological problems and brain injuries and considers herself privileged to work with civilians and Marines.
In 2001, Hope was hospitalized with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Guillain-Barre occurs when the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, causing weakness and even paralysis if untreated. The disorder affects one out of 100,000 people. After a month-long stay in the hospital, Hope spent three weeks getting rehabilitative care. “I consider myself lucky to have made it through that illness and, subsequently, the experience inspired me to join a profession of helping as I had been helped,” she says.
Following her years at Gilmour, Dela Vega graduated from Boston College with a bachelor’s degree in English and information systems. She attended San Francisco State University to fulfill the science prerequisites to become a physical therapist. No doubt, her years at Gilmour playing tennis, softball, and intramural basketball prepared her for the physical challenges of her job. She earned a master’s degree from the University of California, San Francisco/San Francisco State University’s joint program in physical therapy in 2005.
Intent on giving back to those in need, Dela Vega spent two months in Costa Rica as a volunteer physical therapist working with children with disabilities. “This was one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had,” she says. While there, the country was beset with massive floods and landslides, and she became part of the relief effort.
The experience prompted her to take a three-week course at Johns Hopkins University on Healthcare Emergencies in Large Populations. She hopes to put the knowledge to work by becoming more involved in humanitarian emergencies and disaster responses on a global level.
Hope made lifelong friends at Gilmour and still keeps in touch with classmates Heather Brooks ’93, a Denver physician and proud mother of son Zach; Janell Schlanser Malichky ’93, a physical therapist and mother of two sons in the Pittsburgh area; Rob Liotta ’93, a physician in the U.S. Navy based in Washington, D.C.; and Christi Papenbrock Samuelian ’93, a mother of two living near Chicago. Dela Vega noted that Facebook has allowed her to reconnect with Brad Liguzinski ’93, who also lives in San Diego, and Angie Jernejcic ’93, from Seattle.