SFA graduate student’s story of trauma survival inspires others

SFA graduate student’s story of trauma survival inspires others
Marissa surrounded by the nurses who provided her care and emotional support. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Marissa surrounded by the nurses who provided her care and emotional support. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Dr. Greg Miller says he will share Marissa's story with students to inspire them to never give up.
Dr. Greg Miller says he will share Marissa's story with students to inspire them to never give up.

Nacogdoches - August 10, 2017, is when Marissa Rottenberry had her right arm amputated. The anniversary date is in a couple of days, but it will be followed by a happier event.

"I walk across the stage the next day, so that's really exciting," said the ecstatic Stephen F. Austin State University student.

At the time of the accident, Marissa had only one semester left in her master's degree in statistics. In her mind, she didn't have time for studies to be interrupted by the unbelievable news her doctor was sharing.

"He said, 'Well, we had to make the choice to amputate your arm,' and I said, 'Are you sure? Because I can still feel it."

Marissa continues to adjust to the sensation from a phantom limb. The 25-year-old's long recovery started at Houston's Ben Taub Hospital where she was transferred from a Nacogdoches hospital.

"I was in the hospital for 34 days," Marissa recalled.

She had three surgeries each week to cleanse the wound.

"As soon as I started to feel better, I had another surgery," Marissa said.

Nurses cheered the patient up when they rode out Hurricane Harvey together.

"The nurses came and got me up like midnight, and we went to like separate nurse's station and we played games and they shared their snack," said Marissa.

It was all part of following the doctor's orders.

"They kept, kept telling me in the hospital, 'Happy people heal faster. Happy people heal faster," Marissa said.

Marissa knew the true healing power was returning to SFA. Professor of Statistics Greg Miller got an email three weeks after the amputation from the student he first taught in 2011. Marissa was preparing to resume her graduate studies.

"It was a chance for us to repay the dedication that she had shown us all those years, so it wasn't a matter of if. It was a matter of how we were going to create the path for her?" Miller said.

Marissa returned to SFA two months after the accident with plans to graduate last year. Unfortunately, an infection developed, and it required another surgery.

A determined student made it back this summer. Awards and a completed master's project came with the help of her family of colleagues.

"She's got such a strong personality. We knew she would overcome this," said Shelley Cook, a lecturer at SFA's Math and Statistics Department.

The accomplishment will allow Marissa to inspire others.

"Perseverance is so important and to never give up, never quit or stop a goal halfway through, and I think that's something that I learned. It really comes down to everyone has their challenges, and this one is mine."

Marissa was honored at a trauma survivors banquet hosted by Houston's Ben Taub Hospital. She is most excited about receiving a custom prosthetic later this month.

Copyright 2018 KTRE. All rights reserved.