Alexis Zepeda first entered Douglas Cherokee’s Educational Opportunity Center, January 19, 2016 as a high school senior, who needed assistance with the financial aid application for college.
Alexis’s late sister, Alyssa, had previously been a client of EOC, but not long after she enrolled at Walters State Community College she was tragically killed in a car accident due to driving with high blood sugar.
Alexis and her mother, Nanette, shared at her first appointment about Alyssa’s death, and how Alexis had worked with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to create “Alyssa’s Promise,” a social media site with a link to educate the public about the dangers of driving with high blood sugar.
Alyssa had dreams of becoming a school teacher before she passed away.
“If Alyssa’s terrible death can prevent one other person from dying in a car accident, her goal of a career as an educator will have been fulfilled,” Nanette said in a local newspaper.
Alexis wished to enroll at Carson-Newman University majoring in human services, and so she did in fall, 2016.
Alexis is no stranger to obstacles.
At age two, she was diagnosed with an extremely rare bone disease (Blount), which is a growth disorder of the tibia (shin) bone which is an inward turning of the lower leg (bowing) that slowly worsens over time. She has had numerous surgeries with the help of Shriner’s hospitals. Alexis is in a wheelchair the majority of the time, but she is able to walk short distances. Alexis can be found traveling back and forth in her wheelchair on campus in rain, snow, sleet or sunshine as she only lives a block away, and her wheelchair is her means of transportation.
At age five, she was diagnosed as having Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. It is thought the pressure from her surgeries brought about the onset of diabetes. She has also developed cataracts in both eyes as a result of the diabetes, and has had surgery for both while enrolled in college. After her surgery, her first question to her doctor was, “When can I read my textbooks?”
Also while enrolled at C-N, Nanette had to have open heart surgery. Alexis was now assisting her mother, who generally assisted and cared for her.
During her time at Carson-Newman, Alexis has made the dean’s list not once, but all four years. She has served as president of the honors society. She has served as an orientation leader, which assists incoming freshmen to adjust to campus life. Alexis volunteers each week at Appalachian Outreach, a poverty relief ministry serving impoverished families in a four-county area of East Tennessee. She assists families with filling out the application for services, and helps distribute food and clothing.
On February 20, Alexis was hit with the unexpected passing of her mother. Her biggest encourager, support system, No. 1 fan and cheerleader is now missing from her life.
Alexis so gracefully shared at her mother’s memorial service that she and her mother didn’t always agree on her choice of major at Carson-Newman. Nanette felt that political science was a better fit, and it was only until Alexis shared with her doctor during an appointment of how excited she was to be able to give out coats to those who were in need of one while she was volunteering at Appalachian Outreach.
Nanette finally agreed and said, “I get it now, and I fully support you, you were put on this Earth to help people.”
Alexis is set to graduate May 1, with a bachelor of science in human services. She is graduating top 10 in her graduating class. Her plans are to continue at Carson-Newman until she obtains her masters in mental health counseling.
Although her mother will be absent from this day and future accomplishments, a song performed by Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time” was played at the memorial service, a song the two shared. Her mother’s death is a great loss, but the words to the chorus of this song ring true for Alexis.
“If you’re lost you can look and you will find me…
Time after Time
If you fall, I will catch you, I’ll be waiting…
Time after Time…
Time after Time”