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Miracle in Morrow: Freshman hopes to inspire through education

(August 21, 2023) - “It’s never too late” is the motto Clayton State freshman Emily Phillips is living by as she begins the next chapter in her academic career.

Freshman Emily Phillips is beyond excited to resume her academic career at Clayton State University.

At 52 years old, she’s dusted off her backpack and has picked up right where she left off more than 30 years ago.

“I was a teen mom,” Phillips said. “I had my son going into my senior year. I did start taking night classes my senior year to finish up, but that didn’t quite work out for me. I ended up working and got married.”   

After earning a diploma in information processing and computer science at Metro Business College in Missouri, it wasn’t much longer until she soon found herself working at Aflac’s corporate headquarters in Columbus, Georgia.

But in Columbus, Phillips also had a knack for helping others earn their degrees while working full-time.

“While I was here, I helped another friend get her bachelor’s,” Phillips said. “I helped her get her master’s. My ex-husband [also] decided to go back and get his master’s and who did he call? He called me! One of my friends said, ‘I don’t know why you’re not doing this for yourself.’ I said, ‘I don’t need it; not going to worry about it.’”

Phillips said that life just kept rolling along in the years that followed before she was promoted to her current role as a supervisor for Aflac in 2021.

But while she’s been working hard to potentially move higher up in the company, nothing could have prepared her for what she experienced at the beginning of 2023.

“January 30, 2023, I wasn’t feeling well when I went to bed that night,” she said. “I woke up that morning with no hearing in either ear – couldn’t hear a thing. I contacted a very good friend of mine and let her know, ‘I think I need to go to the emergency room.’”

Phillips was soon rushed to the emergency room at Piedmont Fayette Hospital in Fayetteville and said that her kidneys had then completely shut down, her lungs were shutting down, and she was fighting sepsis.

Not long after, doctors put her into a medically induced coma.

“I went on a ventilator, feeding tubes, and a series of tests,” Phillips said. “They discovered that I had suffered three strokes – one on the left side, one on the right, and one in the back of my brain. The one in the back is the one that took my hearing.”

Phillips said that she was on three forms of life support as the medical staff began preparing her to go on dialysis, which would have been her fourth.

But she wouldn’t need it.

“Miraculously,” she said, her kidneys began working about 36 hours after she went to the E.R. and doctors soon began weening her out of her coma to see if she could see breathe on her own.

“When I woke up, I did regain hearing on my left side and was cognizant,” Phillips said. “I had lost use of my limbs, but it appeared that I had all that back. It seemed like I had my wits about myself, which they did not expect at all.”

Phillips remained in the ICU and on life support for about five-to-six days before being released on Valentine’s Day 2023. Later that day, she walked through her own front door and began to think about what she wanted to do with the remaining time that she had left.

“At that moment, I started thinking about my life and, ‘what have I not done that I wish that I had,’” Phillips said. “I’m never a person that ever really has regrets, but it really started working on me.”

By the time spring rolled around, Phillips recalled that someone had mentioned going back to school while she noticed another friend wrapping up her master’s degree.

She still wanted to be a senior manager or a director when she retired, and a degree would be one of the most reliable ways of eventually earning that title.

From there, Phillips began researching schools and eventually, through “divine intervention,” found Clayton State University.

This past spring, after working with University Admissions, her dream became a reality.

At 52 years young, she officially became a Laker.

“Finally, everything was in and I got the acceptance video,” Phillips said. “I sent that all over the country. I posted it on Facebook, I was so excited!”

So far this semester, she said that so many professors and staff members in the university’s Admissions office and Disability Resource Center have been nothing short of amazing in helping her settle into school once again.

With just a little over a week of classes under her belt in the beginning of her four-year journey, Phillips is already beyond proud to be a Laker.

“I want to earn my bachelor’s degree and definitely want it to work for me [at Aflac],” Phillips said. “I want others my age to know that they can come back, do well, and not be so afraid of it. If one person can say, ‘you inspired me to do this,’ at whatever age they are ... I will feel like this not only was for me, but it was for someone else.”

One thing Phillips also will say about her story it is that it’s a miracle. She believes that surviving her strokes and living her life as she is now isn’t a testament to her strength ... but to the strength of someone much stronger.

 “Nobody could explain why I came back and didn’t die,” Phillips said. “I know why – it wasn’t just for me. My testimony to whomever I come in contact with is to know what God can do. I’m not the miracle from 2,000 years ago that you read or hear about [but] I’m the miracle that you see today. I’m tangible and you can see and know it happened. There’s no guess whether or not He still works miracles.”

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