Missouri State University
Patricia Hilton

Patricia Hilton

  • Major: Design
  • Hometown: Ozark, Mo.

Transplant recipient focuses on art, entrepreneurship

There are a variety of reasons for why a student might be prevented from heading to college right after high school.

Some reasons include serving in the military, needing time to decide on a path, working to save money. 

Or, receiving a double lung transplant. That's right, for Jazzercize instructor Patricia Hilton, the need for a double lung transplant impacted her ability to head straight off to college. 

"I came back to school after my double lung transplant. I have cystic fibrosis and my lungs were failing me. So instead of going for my bachelor's degree when I was younger, I got new lungs instead. Now I have the energy to go back to school. I also got married, going on three years. Things are great!"

"It's been crazy going from a life of taking care of myself and laying in a hospital bed, to having a part-time job, starting school again and being able to be 'normal' for once." 

From the hospital bed to MSU

A genetic disease, cystic fibrosis impacts mucus in the body.

For Patricia, that lead to heavy mucus in her lungs and multiple lung infections. The infections produced scar tissue, eventually damaging the function of her lungs.

She received a double lung transplant in 2017. Straight out of high school, Patricia attended community college to earn her associate's degree.

She had several years of declining health before she received her transplant. 

"My lung function was less than 20 percent with one lung working toward the end." 

Patricia underwent lung transplant surgery in January of 2017. By August, she was starting classes at MSU. 

Now, she boasts a 108 percent lung function and a positive outlook.

A mere eight months after her life-saving transplant, she was already enrolled at MSU.

Building toward her future

Illustration of hummingbird and flower by Patricia Hilton

She is an illustration major and entrepreneurial studies minor student. 

"I want to create illustrations for children's books. I also want to open a booth somewhere and be an artist, but not price my stuff as high as galleries. So that's where the business comes in handy." 

She notes several benefits of being a nontraditional student. 

"Going back to school married and older, I feel I’ve settled down and also know what I want to do with my life. I have been a successful student, more so now than I was before." 

She's fortunate for her family's help as she navigates balancing life as an adult student. 

"I lean on my husband for support along with my family. I am still dealing with the anxiety that comes with a busy schedule, but I have been successful!"

Helpful hands

In addition to support from her family, she has found several other sources of helpful resources. 

"Vocational Rehabilitation helps me with schooling each semester. They are a great resource! 

"The disability office helped me out with an accommodation letter for my doctor visits I will have to go to during the week. I hate missing school but this helps."

She has her eyes set on the goal ahead. 

"I have always wanted to become an artist."