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UA Little Rock senior overcomes injury to complete college education

Kaiden O’Suilleabhain

In 2016, Kaiden O’Suilleabhain’s life was on track. He had just graduated from the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College and was about to start school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as an engineering major. 

His life soon took an unexpected turn he wasn’t sure he would ever overcome.

“I had sudden cardiac arrest and suffered a brain injury. I was actually in a coma the first day that classes started,” O’Suilleabhain said.

The year and a half that followed his injury would prove to be an intense journey through an extended hospitalization, rehabilitation, recovery, and setbacks, but O’Suilleabhain fought hard to get his life back and started at UA Little Rock in fall 2017.

All his hard work paid off, and he will graduate May 11 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in professional and technical writing at the Jack Stephens Center.

“Being back in college gave me a sense of normalcy I didn’t have anywhere in my life, so I fought my doctors to get back to college as quickly as possible,” he said. “The thing about coming back to school so quickly after an injury is that I wasn’t completely fixed.”

Recovering from his injuries was not the only roadblock O’Suilleabhain faced in his efforts to complete his college degree.

“Because of the fact that I mysteriously did not show up to class, I lost my scholarship,” he said. “The doctors told my parents I wouldn’t survive more than a couple of days, so they were more interested in getting my family in to see me before I passed. They didn’t know they needed to contact the school. Sharon Downs was very instrumental in helping me get the scholarship back, and I probably wouldn’t have made it back to school without her. The Disability Resource Center was also very helpful in getting me back to school.”

O’Suilleabhain joined the Department of Rhetoric and Writing after getting some advice from a friend.

“I originally came here to study engineering, but after my injuries, the doctors told me that I couldn’t pursue that,” he said. “A friend told me about the Rhetoric and Writing Department because she knew that I liked writing.”

While at UA Little Rock, O’Suilleabhain greatly sharpened his writing, editing, and design skills while working at the University Writing Center and interning at the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., where he wrote and edited safety training materials for electric workers.

“I loved my internship. I learned a lot about writing in the real world,” O’Suilleabhain said. “The audience I was writing for was rural electrical workers, pretty much the opposite of me. My job was to make the technical writing clean enough and in the right terms that people will want to read it. I have to look at all the obstacles people have to reading these manuals and overcome those preemptively.”

O’Suilleabhain credits the rhetoric and writing faculty members with keeping him motivated and on track to complete his education.

“For me, the faculty is my favorite part of UA Little Rock. I’ve had some professors who really motivated me. I’ve had my health and other things on my mind while in college, but my teachers have kept me motivated,” O’Suilleabhain said. “Dr. Karen Kuralt stands out. She is one of the teachers who seems very excited about her work. I took one of her classes my first semester. Being a writer wasn’t my original plan. I was still feeling nebulous, and she helped me feel like I belong.”

After graduation, O’Suilleabhain plans to work as a technical writer.

“Graduation is pretty exciting,” he said. “Finishing college feels a lot like getting my life back in a way. This injury derailed my life, and I definitely feel accomplished now that I am graduating. This is a big step in rebuilding my life.”