Aubrey Krizka knew she wanted to be a nurse when she enrolled at WSU. What she didn’t know was how close to her heart nursing would become.

During spring of 2023, Krizka was completing her clinical experience at Mayo Clinic when she first didn’t feel right. That same day, she was evaluated at Mayo. After further examination neurologists diagnosed Krizka with a cyst on her brain—but little did they know, that was not their main concern.

Krizka’s health began to decline, resulting in her admission to St. Mary’s Hospital. She was experiencing heart failure and sepsis due to an infected heart valve. Less than 12 hours after she was hospitalized, she underwent emergency open-heart surgery to replace her mitral valve.

This life-saving surgery required a long, hard recovery process, meaning she was not able to finish spring semester of 2023.

Her story doesn’t end there though. Krizka was determined to continue her nursing education, and the support she received from the WSU nursing community was a huge help.

“From the minute I started not feeling well I was in constant communication with the nursing faculty,” Krizka said.

The nursing department provided tons of support, sending her cards, gifts, and messages of encouragement while she recovered. One of the most meaningful gifts she received was a quilt made from WSU shirts contributed by her cohort.

“It is a gift I will always cherish,” she said.

Gifts are not the only way Krizka received support from her department. She even had a professor offer to sit by her bedside if her parents needed a break, and another professor who sent monthly cards and letters.

Krizka was intent on continuing the nursing program and graduating alongside the cohort that provided her so much encouragement and sense of belonging.

WSU’s nursing faculty were more than willing to help her develop a plan to make that happen.

“I wouldn’t have been able to graduate on time without unwavering support from the nursing faculty at WSU and am so grateful for their kindness and flexibility,” Krizka said.

Undergraduate Nursing Department chair and Professor Cyndy Jones was a key player in supporting Krizka throughout her journey. She worked with her during the summer to complete her in-progress courses, while helping her develop a plan for her final semester.

“She was dedicated and driven throughout the summer, also participating in a nursing internship back home in IL,” Jones said.

In August, Aubrey returned to Winona State. She had gained permission from the Dean of Nursing & Health Sciences to take a 20-credit course load in hopes of graduating this December.

“So far this fall, Aubrey is continuing to exceed expectations in the classroom and clinical setting,” Jones said.

Krizka’s experience has affected her education in more ways than one. She ended up completing her capstone clinical experience on the same Intensive Care Unit (ICU) floor she was a patient on just a few months prior.

Her very first shift, the nurse that cared for her ended up being the charge nurse on the unit.

“This felt like such a full circle moment, and it was great to be able to thank her for all that she did,” Krizka said.

In addition, her experience has helped develop her career path. Krizka hopes to work as a nurse in an ICU. That way, she can help patients overcome conditions like hers.

Aubrey’s unwavering persistence, combined with support from her department have helped her learn from this major setback.

“It’s important to be flexible! Life doesn’t always go how you want or expect it to,” she said. “It’s important to see the beauty in that and adapt to change the best you can. Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it!”

Wherever her nursing degree takes her, Aubrey looks forward to providing patients compassionate care through their treatment in the ICU.

“Aubrey has handled all of this with grace and gratitude at every turn. We will be proud to have her as a graduate, representing WSU throughout her career!” Jones said.