Jessica Arnstrom’s pursuit of a nursing career was already following a non-traditional path when it took an unexpected turn in 2018.
The then 39-year-old was in her third semester at Joliet Junior College. A mother of a teenage son and daughter, Arnstrom and her husband were expecting a baby boy in the fall. But at just 15 weeks gestation, she experienced preterm premature rupture of the membranes (PPROM).
“I basically had no amniotic fluid and no amniotic sac. This diagnosis has a less than one percent survival of the fetus, especially that early in the pregnancy,” said Arnstrom. “I went to the JJC campus and tearfully had to medically withdrawal due to mentally not being able to concentrate, and if somehow my pregnancy continued, I faced long-term hospitalization.
Arnstrom spent the next several weeks at home waiting and praying, continuously listening to her son’s heartbeat with a fetal doppler she had purchased online.
“Well, his heart kept beating. And miraculously he kept growing.”
She was admitted to the hospital at 23 weeks, at which point she began six weeks of bed rest. On May 5, 2018, at 29 weeks, doctors performed an emergency C-section to deliver Talan, who was immediately intubated, sedated, and placed on life support. Arnstrom said doctors performed a series of life-saving measures just that first night, and the situation was very touch and go over the next month.
“He continued to shock the medical world, and he came home August 9, on his 97th day,” she said.
As Talan’s health began to stabilize, Arnstrom became more anxious to get back into the classroom.
“I always knew, in the back of my mind, I had to finish what I started. JJC and the nursing department were so gracious and patient with me. They checked in each passing semester. After three semesters out, I returned to my third semester of nursing school with the evening students in August 2019.”
Arnstrom admits she was scared to return to school. Her classmates from before had since graduated, and she questioned if any knowledge previously gained had been lost.
“But everyone welcomed me back and I could not have asked for a better clinical group and graduating class,” said Arnstrom. “This experience completely changed my view on life and how fragile it can be. It opened my eyes as a future nurse very much so.”
“Sometimes we choose a career in a field that has impacted the lives of those we love and it forever changes us,” said Nancy Seymour, one of Arnstrom’s nursing professors. “Jessica is an outstanding patient advocate and works to ensure her patients’ needs are known by the healthcare team. This level of compassion, empathy and critical thinking was deeply enriched by her pervious personal journey.”
Arnstrom said she’s grateful to the JJC faculty, who in their continuous support held her up during a tough period.
Arnstrom was among the roughly one-quarter of students age 25 or older JJC enrolls on average each semester. Some of these non-traditional age students are working toward their high school diploma, enrolled in college classes for the first time, finishing a program or starting anew to further their career, or taking courses for fun and personal enrichment. Over 2,600 non-traditional age students are enrolled this spring.
Arnstrom has been working in the medical field since last October, and was recently hired as an oncology nurse at Silver Cross Hospital. She intends to pursue her Bachelor of Science in nursing, and someday work in labor and delivery or a neonatal intensive care unit.
“Behind those walls of the NICU lies the tiniest fighters, the extreme unknown, the saddest heartbreak, and pure miracles,” she said.
Talan, meanwhile, continues to thrive. This past fall he was cleared to physically and cognitively start preschool once he turns three this May.
Arnstrom said her experience proves we never know what tomorrow will bring, and to not let any unexpected turns you encounter steer you off course.
“For future students, never ever give up hope. My son was given less than a one percent chance to live. To me, I thought this long hard road of college was over. My dream of becoming a nurse was over. You just have to wake up and face each day with hope in your heart, and never give up. After all, you only need one percent.”
This story appeared in JJC's Spring 2021 Connections Magazine, a biannual publication prepared by the JJC Communications and Marketing Division and the Institutional Advancement Office.
For media inquiries, contact Communications and Media Coordinator Scott Harvey at email@example.com.