SAU grads lace up tennis shoes for classmate


By Craig DeVrieze
Courtesy of

Commencement ceremonies for St. Ambrose University in Davenport took on a colorful, casual twist in a show of solidarity for an ailing classmate. Members of the university’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program wore tennis shoes to their Dec. 14 graduation because class member Alyssa Curtis had to wear a pair as she recovers from surgery for a brain tumor.

DAVENPORT — Members of St. Ambrose University’s Winter 2013 graduating cohort of the Doctor of Phys­i­cal Ther­apy program were not about to let classmate Alyssa Curtis stand alone.
When Curtis posted on Facebook that complications from surgery to remove a brain tumor earlier this year would force her to attend commencement ceremonies Dec. 14 in tennis shoes, her classmates laced up their tennies, too.
“She joked about it on Facebook, but it seemed like she would be uncomfortable if she were the only one wearing tennis shoes,” said graduating classmate Katie Carberry, who emailed the idea to the other 33 members of the DPT cohort. “I thought it would be a good idea so she wouldn’t feel like she stood out.”


Curtis, diagnosed with a Stage III malignant tumor after suffering seizures in the midst of her clinical assignment in August, said she felt embraced and supported by her classmates while she was undergoing treatment. The complicated surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., this past fall caused minor paralysis on her left side. That meant she would need to wear a brace on her left ankle when she crossed the stage during commencement ceremonies at Davenport’s RiverCenter, and only tennis shoes would fit.
To discover her classmates were wearing tennis shoes, too, was in keeping with the level of support the DPT cohort has shown her all year, she said.
“I have never gone a day without hearing from at least one of them,” she said. “We say all the time how much we have each other’s back. This is absolute proof.”
Although Curtis won’t receive her doctoral degree until she is able to complete the clinical assignment that was interrupted by discovery of the tumor, it was important to her to join her classmates at commencement, said Associate Professor Michael Put­hoff, director of the DPT program.
DPT graduate Justine Uhl said it was equally important to Curtis’ classmates. “It’s everything,” Uhl said. “We wouldn’t be complete without her. She is part of our class. She has been here through thick and thin. She should be here.”
Uhl also is leading a fundraising effort to help defray Curtis’ medical expenses. Along with Curtis’ family and friends, they hosted a trivia contest Dec. 15. Direct contributions can be made out to “Benefit for Alyssa Curtis” and mailed to Modern Woodmen Bank at 1701 First Ave., Rock Island, IL, 61201.
Curtis recently completed a first round of radiation and chemotherapy and will undergo a brain scan soon to determine if another round is necessary. She plans to complete her degree work when able and said her experience as a patient will make her a better and more empathetic physical therapist.
“Now it’s time to heal. I’ll give my rehabilitation all I’ve got … and see where God’s plan takes me,” she told The Catholic Messenger.
Meanwhile, her classmates have taken to answering to the title of Team Alyssa. Uhl said teamwork is just a natural outgrowth of the SAU DPT program.
“From the first day we started class, we were all in it together,” Uhl said. “The PT program at St. Ambrose is not easy — anyone who has been through it will tell you that. And we all knew that we were going to have to get through it together, because that is the only way we could. We all just kind of grew together.”
(Craig DeVrieze is director of publications and editorial projects for St. Ambrose University, Davenport.)

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