On graduation day, rain was pouring as an ambulance took her to a crowded auditorium. Deland Dooly, one of her nurses, walked her across the stage.
Striving for a degree
At home there were new challenges as she took over raising her son while still on oxygen and working to regain her strength.
“I had to literally teach Daphne how to walk again by picking her feet up and putting them back down again,” Henderson said.
In 1989, she enrolled at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City but left before graduating to focus on raising her two children. After moving to Houston, Simmons set a goal to get an education.
“The promise I made to myself was to obtain my B.A. before my daughter graduated high school,” she said.
She earned an associate degree in 2005 and went to work on a bachelor's degree the next year after the family moved to Hampton, Va. She took a job working with welfare recipients but found little satisfaction there.
She wanted a job where she felt like she could make a difference, and she found that at the Hampton VA Medical Center, where she works with disabled veterans, helping them apply for benefits. When she completes her master's degree, she hopes to become a substance abuse counselor in the same center.
Learning to serve
The need to help others was a seed planted during her upbringing, Simmons said. Her time in the hospital made that seed grow.
“How could you not want to give and do something for someone else?” she said.
Toiyan Thomas, her sister, is a registered nurse at a hospital in Delaware after serving in the military for 11 years. Henderson said she asked Thomas why she became a nurse, and she said it was because of what she experienced in the hospital while Simmons was sick.
Simmons brings her experience to the table when she meets with injured veterans. One of her pet peeves when she was in the hospital was when someone would tell her everything would be all right when they hadn't experienced it themselves, she said. Although she never served in the military, Simmons draws on her suffering to empathize with her clients.
Now she hopes that by getting her master's degree she can send a message to other teen girls that in the face of a hopeless situation, perseverance and patience pay off.
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How could you not want to give and do something for someone else?”