Transplant Survivor Plans To Pay It Forward

For one student, a life-changing and life-saving medical procedure helped her pick her major as well as where to start her education. In 2011, Abbi Penning received a kidney transplant. Because of her relationship with the nurse who served as her transplant coordinator, Abbi decided that pediatric nursing would be her career path. She knew she wanted to use her experience to help children like her.

Abbi graduated high school in May 2020 and chose to start her college journey at Rock Valley College. With the pandemic in full swing, knowing that she was at high risk for infection, Abbi decided to stay closer to home and explore a variety of subjects at RVC.

“I decided that Rock Valley was the best way to achieve my goals. Rock Valley gave me a chance to decide if I wanted to pursue a degree and career that focused heavily on science,” explained Abbi, who is currently pursuing an Associate of Arts degree.

“I have always been drawn to humanities subjects, so being able to take those and science pre-requisites to help me continue my future career path as a nursing student has been a very nice way for me to have a balance.”

As a child, Abbi spent a lot of time traveling to a children’s hospital, and this year marked the eleventh anniversary of her kidney transplant. Her experiences as a patient and a survivor have steered her onto her career path.

“Because of this, I have a special place in my heart for pediatric nurses. I hope to eventually be a pediatric transplant coordinator so I can help kids the way I was helped; to be able to share my unique perspective.”

Abbi’s transplant coordinator was delighted to learn of her career path. “The fact that Abbi wants to be a transplant coordinator after all of these years under my wings is flattering and makes me very happy. Hopefully, one day she will be working with me; next to me in the office,” said Erin Foristal, nurse and transplant coordinator at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. 

Despite the challenges that Abbi has faced, she is an active student. She is an RVC Peer Mentor in the First Year Experience Office and is an avid swimmer. In fact, Abbi completed her first triathlon earlier this year. 

During her time at RVC, she credits the flexibility of online classes and her helpful instructors for helping her stay on track to complete her degree. After graduation next fall, she plans to transfer to Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois to pursue her bachelor’s degree in nursing.

She has this advice for future RVC students, “The best thing to do is communicate with your professors. This means emails, messages on EAGLE, or face-to-face. By communicating, you’ll have a much easier time getting questions answered and connecting with others on campus.”