SOU student makes use of life experiences

It takes more than a life-threatening accident to keep Haley Lapkin down.

On Feb. 22, her 23rd birthday, Lapkin was with her girlfriend, Shay, in California. They were alone together for the first time, while Lapkin's caretaker stayed nearby. Disaster struck when Lapkin's wheelchair tipped over a one-foot step.

Lapkin has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. She broke both her legs in the fall, but that was only the beginning of her troubles.

A pain medication administered at the hospital compromised Lapkin's breathing. She was intubated and eventually given a tracheotomy. Given the fragility of Lapkin's spine, hospital staff feared she could die in the process.

Lapkin came to SOU in 2003 after graduating from North Tahoe High School in Tahoe City, Calif. Although she was reluctant to leave her home state, she found SOU to be a good fit.

"I couldn't have picked a better school," she said.

Lapkin's brother and parents rushed to her bedside. Her best friend, Heather, a nursing student familiar with her condition, came from out of town just to hold her neck during the tracheotomy.

The couple met through Myspace. Shay, a traveling nurse, came to Southern Oregon for a stint at Rogue Valley Medical Center. They met in person, neither of them expecting anything beyond friendship. They have been together for eight months.

At the time of the accident, Lapkin, a media studies major, was planning her capstone project at SOU: an all-day engagement from motivational speaker Sean Stephenson.

Lapkin met Stephenson, who also has OI, at a conference 14 years ago. She called him in 2006 to ask if he would help with her capstone project in 2008. He agreed.

Lapkin was out of commission for three weeks, with a big senior project to plan and a load of coursework to finish. She got off the tracheotomy on March 21, despite doctors' fears that she would need it for the rest of her life.

"It was a bit challenging the first couple of weeks back," she said.

Lapkin raised $4,000 for the speaking event, mostly from friends and family.

True to his word, Stephenson came to SOU on May 14. He gave three separate presentations: one for the athletic program, one for residence hall staff, and a keynote speech for the public.

Lapkin will finish the last of her schoolwork this summer. She has a job lined up at SOU's Access Center, where she will work to improve the university's online utilities and disability services.

"If you put your mind to something, you can achieve it," she said.

Lapkin enjoys collecting celebrity autographs, and would like to get involved in event planning in the future. Her room contains numerous signed photographs, including one of herself with her favorite actor: "Days of Our Lives" star Jason Cook.

For now, Lapkin can enjoy at least one silver lining of her ordeal: it brought her closer to her girlfriend.

"She stuck by me through the whole thing," Lapkin said. "She cheered me up."

Share This Story