By Skyler Jennings
SAN MARCOS, TX – Texas State University senior Xiomara Ojeda, a first-generation American who will be the first in her family to graduate college, has wanted to work in healthcare her entire life.
Xiomara Ojeda, from Austin, originally chose to attend Texas State for its nursing program. Once there, she discovered its respiratory care program and decided to change her career path.
In January 2018, Xiomara Ojeda took her knowledge and passion for respiratory therapy to Guyana on a study abroad program. Sharon Armstead, clinical associate professor at Texas State, led the program in conjunction with Bridges Global Medical Missions. It was the university’s first respiratory care study abroad program.
While there, she worked in Georgetown Public Hospital and the Linden Hospital Complex alongside doctors and nurses. She and four other Texas State respiratory care students assisted when needed, educated staff on respiratory therapy and learned what it was like to work in another country.
“[Guyana is] so different but I feel like we just have more things to get our people healthier,” said Xiomara Ojeda. “I’m more grateful for the things that we have [here]. Things that we took for granted. It opened my eyes that we’re very lucky here.”
When working alongside Cuban doctors in Guyana, Xiomara Ojeda sometimes spoke with them in Spanish, her first language. She said it’s not new for her to speak Spanish while working. When she’s working in Austin, she said she will often talk with patients in Spanish so they feel more comfortable.
She learned Spanish at home from her parents who emigrated from El Salvador and Mexico. Xiomara Ojeda said they also taught her to work hard for what she wants.
“My parents always told us, ‘You have to work hard and get an education so you don’t do hard labor like [we’ve] had to,’” said Xiomara Ojeda. “They’ve always said, ‘Go to school, get a degree, do something that you love and you don’t work a day in your life.’ I’ve always wanted to make them proud.”
Xiomara Ojeda’s interest in healthcare started as a child, because she frequented hospitals.
“I was actually born with spina bifida so I had to go to doctor appointments every year,” said Xiomara Ojeda. “I had to go to the hospital and get regular checkups. I would get ultrasounds and X-rays and stuff like that on my back. I grew up around [healthcare]. I fell in love with medicine. I wasn’t scared of it; it didn’t freak me out.”
Ramon Ojeda, Xiomara Ojeda’s younger brother, said he had first-hand experience of her natural pull to healthcare when they were kids. Xiomara Ojeda, 10, nursed Ramon Ojeda, 6, back to health after a hot iron fell on Ramon Ojeda’s head.
“It was on the weekend and both my parents were gone,” said Ramon Ojeda. “I was screaming, and the first thing I remember is my sister [putting] me on a bed. My head was bleeding and she put towels on my head. It was in her nature to take care of people.”
Xiomara Ojeda used supplies she knew were in the house because her mom had worked in the emergency room, transporting patients to different floors.
“My mom used to work at a hospital, and she had a bunch of gauze and medical stuff,” said Xiomara Ojeda. “I started taking the gauze and antibiotics and stuff like that [for Ramon’s head]. I wasn’t scared to deal with blood. I’ve never been scared to deal with blood.”
This spring, Xiomara Ojeda will graduate from Texas State University with a degree in respiratory care. She will be the first in her family to earn a degree, and has been on the dean’s list six semesters.
Sharon Armstead, the director of clinical education at Texas State University, lead the team of respiratory care students in Guyana. Armstead said she’s proud of Xiomara Ojeda’s success.
“Xiomara overcame many odds to be where she is today,” said Armstead. “If you know spina bifida…the fact that she’s overcome that, to graduate, to do all of this on her own and she’s a woman…I think that speaks volumes to her strength of character.”
Ramon Ojeda, a freshman at Texas State University, said seeing his sister on the path to graduate college is a driving factor for himself. He said he remembers Xiomara Ojeda’s first semester of college didn’t go as she planned, but she came out on top.
“She was about to give up and then she got her stuff together,” said Ramon Ojeda. “She showed me what she did…all of this stuff about how to improve. It’s definitely something that helps me; it’s helping me now.”
Xiomara Ojeda is finishing up her last semester of college while working in the adult intensive care unit at Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin. After she graduates and passes her board examination, she will be a registered respiratory therapist. She said she isn’t certain where she’ll end up working.
“I really wanted to do adult [care] for a really long time, but I did my internship at Dell Children’s [in Austin] and I just fell in love with working with kids,” said Xiomara Ojeda. “I don’t know if that’s what I want to do, but I’m really highly considering that that’s what I want to do. I really loved working with kids.”