Nursing student strives to join the team that saved her life


Chelsea Wardecke was accustomed to working hard to reach her goals, even before she started nursing school at Columbia College of Nursing. Due to her family’s financial constraints, she started working at the age of 13 and continued to work after graduating from high school in 2009. She tried to save as much money as possible with the hope of attending college one day.

Then, tragedy struck on May 7, 2010, when she was in a building accident and subsequently suffered first, second, and third degree burns over 70 percent of her body. After she was rescued from the burning building, she was transported to Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee.

It was a long, hard road to recovery, but the support of her friends, family, doctors, and nurses helped her to succeed. Nurses played a key role supporting her on both good days and bad days. “They never once gave up on me, and most important, they never let me give up on myself,” said Chelsea.

A little over a year later, regular everyday activities were becoming easier, and Chelsea started thinking about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. It didn’t take her long to decide that she wanted to become a nurse and work in the burn unit at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, now part of Ascension Health. “I wanted to earn the privilege of helping others who are going through similar experiences,” she explained.

Chelsea enrolled in courses at UW-Manitowoc in the Fall of 2012, where she received an associate degree. She began looking into baccalaureate nursing programs and found the Columbia College of Nursing website. “As soon as I clicked on their home page, I was hooked and thought, ‘This is where I’m meant to go!”’ she recalled. However, the reality of paying for college quickly set in. Years of ongoing surgeries and recovery were costly, and they also meant she was unable to work to save money for the next step in her college education.

When she was informed she would be getting financial help in the form of the Wisconsin Grant, she felt greatly relieved. She realizes she may have not been able to follow her dream of becoming a nurse without this financial support. Chelsea, who is a senior at Columbia College of Nursing and is on track to graduate in May, recognizes that she is close to coming full circle. She hopes to have an opportunity to work with the nursing team that saved her life.

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