Graduation stories: Lifelong battle with cerebral palsy won’t keep Tammy Geissert from her dreams

May 12, 2011

Tammy Geissert says she is stubborn, a personality trait that has pushed her to follow her dreams regardless of what she describes as a “roller-coaster ride” of the day-to-day struggles brought on by cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy applies to a number of neurological disorders that  affect body movement and muscle coordination. Unlike other chronic health conditions, cerebral palsy does not worsen over time. When Geissert was born, a doctor said she might never walk or talk.

On Saturday, Geissert will walk across the stage at Emporia State’s commencement to pick up her bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

In her classroom, Geissert is up-front about cerebral palsy and how it affects her. She student-taught one semester at Walnut Elementary School in Emporia and one semester at Americus Elementary in the North Lyon County district.

“I’m honest with them,” she said of her students. “I explain in ways they will understand.”

Geissert’s physical limitations are not readily apparent, thanks to physical therapy from the time she was an infant through eighth grade.

“You reach a point where some things you just cannot do — ever,” she explained.

Geissert is affected on only one side. She walks with a slight limp and has one weak hand, forcing her to type with one hand. She doesn’t manifest any speech impediments that can be caused by cerebral palsy.

What has been worse than the physical effects, however, are the seizures. Geissert said she was at risk for seizures until she was 2 years old. So, she wasn’t expecting them when she was 16.

“I was a sophomore in high school, and I had a seizure in front of people,” she said, recalling how awkward that made her feel socially.

Medicine brought control until she was in college.

“I was clear a really, really long time,” she said. “Then I fell down 20 concrete stairs.”

That was four years ago. By then, Geissert had graduated from Herington High School, earned an associates degree from Cloud County Community College and come to ESU to pursue the dream of teaching she’d had since she was 5.

Her choice of ESU was easy.

“Emporia is known for its education program. I wanted to come from the best to be the best.”

Geissert believes her own struggles are beneficial in the classroom. First comes the honesty.

“If one of my students asks me, ‘Does it hurt?’ Yeah, my foot hurts every single day.”

And with the pain comes empathy.

“I know what a lot of them are going through with bullying,” she said. “If you go into education and you’ve never struggled your whole life, how do you recognize it?”

Geissert, 25, is the first to say that what seems like a well-balanced philosophy was hard to come by.

“When I was 23, I reached a point where I said, ‘OK, this is me.’

“I realize how blessed I am to be graduating and doing all the things I love to do.”

As graduation drew closer, Geissert debated whether to walk at graduation. That’s not unusual. Traditionally, only about 65 percent of undergraduates choose to walk at commencement.

Then she changed her mind.

“I thought, ‘You have to walk. You worked how many years to get this degree, and it’s finally here.’

“I’m one of the success stories. I’m very lucky, and I know that.”



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