Farah Abraham knows about adversity. Four years ago, when her son Ethan was born with a rare genetic disease that left him without a right tibia, Abraham made one of the most difficult decisions of her life — to save Ethan’s leg.
“When Ethan was born via C-section, my husband passed out as soon as he saw him,” recalls Abraham, who graduated from Alvernia in May with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral health. Ethan’s condition, tibial hemimelia, made his right leg crooked and four centimeters shorter than his left.
“Every doctor I saw told me I needed to amputate ... but as a mother, I knew deep in my heart I could not let someone cut my baby’s leg,” she says. Plus, experience was on her side.
It was only a few years earlier when doctors had told Abraham that her older son Jayden would never walk or talk. “He’s doing both now, so I was less willing to believe the doctors who told me they couldn’t save Ethan’s leg,” she says.
So Abraham and her husband hunted for and eventually found a surgeon in New York willing to operate on Ethan. The decision meant multiple rounds of painful surgery and treatments for Ethan, and extensive financial hardship for the family. Endless surgeries, physical therapy sessions, medications and trips back and forth from Berks County to New York City have taken their toll, financially and physically.
But it’s all been worth it for the resilient family. Today, although he still faces additional surgery, Ethan is walking, and Farah is poised for a promising future.
A desire ‘to do more’
As she pursued her degree, it wasn’t unusual to see Abraham toting her boys along with her on campus to the library or writing lab. The daughter of a Haitian mother who worked hard her whole life as a nursing assistant, Abraham juggled a full class schedule as an undergraduate student and an internship while caring for her two young boys with special needs.
Her love for her sons guided many of her decisions, including her choice to attend Alvernia.
“I was working in a nursing home — a job all my family members have held — and I thought, ‘I want to do more,’” she says. “I want my boys to say, ‘English wasn’t her first language, but my mommy still went to school to better herself.’”
Having obtained her general equivalency diploma and achieved remarkable grades, Abraham was accepted into Alvernia’s behavioral health program.And so with the financial and emotional support of her husband, whom she calls “her rock,” Abraham started her education at Alvernia and has never looked back.
Making it count
In the midst of late nights spent studying and holed up in writing labs developing term papers — which involved writing in her native language of French Creole and then translating to English — Abraham admits many times she was ready to quit.
But Alvernia teachers and administrators kept her going.
She received a remarkable amount of support from Sharon Helms in Alvernia’s registrar’s office, who she says has been like a mother to her and lifted her up during some of her lowest moments.
“Whenever I would see Sharon, she would ask if I’m okay; sometimes, she would say, ‘you’re not okay, talk to me and tell me what’s wrong,’ and give me a big hug,” Abraham says. “When I was ready to quit, she handed me the application for graduation and said, ‘I have my money on you — you are going to be something, so we’re going to do it; we’re going to graduate,’ and from then on, whenever I have been struggling, I’ve thought of those words — we’re going to graduate,’ and stuck with it,” she says.
In addition to Sharon, Abraham says she’s also gotten enormous support from others on campus. “The instructors at Alvernia aren’t just teachers — they are like parents. Every single instructor I had has touched my heart. They patiently repeated things when I didn’t understand, allowed me to call my kids to check on them while I was in class, and encouraged me to go on for my master’s.”
She says even an employee cleaning a bathroom on campus who noticed she was crying stopped and said, “don’t worry — when you graduate, it will all be worth it.”
When Abraham graduated this spring with her degree in behavioral health and a concentration in child welfare and mental health, she was set to enter the field she always dreamed of — social work. But before she can begin her career, she’ll take a big step toward an even more important goal — helping her son Ethan through another major surgery to further increase his chances of having full use of his right leg.
Abraham and her husband also plan to construct a website documenting Ethan’s experiences, called “Ethan’s Journey” to give hope and support to parents of children with similar disorders.
Abraham’s advice for other students who face challenges in their lives while trying to work toward graduation is the same advice she has for her sons: “No matter how hard things get, never give up. If you want something badly, you have to go for it no matter what it takes.”