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Mother of 4 prepares to graduate for her children

By JULIAN CAVAZOS
May 13, 2010 at 12:13 a.m.

Amber New, 31, thumbs through a respiratory care book as her daughters Shaleigh Wells, 9, and Brooklynn Harvey, 5, play on a slide at Ted B. Reed Park. New will be graduating on Saturday from the Victoria College's respiratory care program with an Associates of Applied Science in Respiratory Care. New is a mother of four and has been attending classes full-time for the past three years.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Victoria College graduation

WHEN: 11 a.m., Saturday

WHERE: Faith Family Church, 2002 E. Mockingbird Lane

Raising four children while going to school full time and having a job hasn't always been easy for Amber New.

Shifting from the role of a student to an employee to a mother has been a constant struggle everyday, the 31-year-old said.

"When I'm done with school for the day, I have to go home and help the kids with their school work," New said. "My son plays basketball, football, track, whatever we allow. My oldest daughter is in softball. Then there's dinner, baths, hair. I don't start any of my homework until 10 or 11 at night because I have to wait for my kids to go to bed. It's always something."

After three years of attending Victoria College, New will graduate Saturday with her associates degree in respiratory care.

"It hasn't really hit me yet," New said, smiling. "It's amazing to see all that has gone on these last three years. I didn't think I'd ever get here."

On her mother's side, she is the first to graduate with an associate's degree, she said.

Finding Time & Money

The respiratory care program is an intense program, she said, and requires her to participate in many community service events.

On top of that, she works as needed as a respiratory therapy student worker at Warm Springs Specialty Hospital.

While financial aid paid for New's education, Clemon Harvey, her boyfriend of seven years, helped pay the expenses at home.

"I was doing everything outside of school," said Harvey, who is a mental health and mental retardation specialist at the Gulf Bend Center. "I always told her that I helped, but she's the one that took the tests."

But money was still tight, New said. She, Harvey and her four children live in a three-bedroom apartment in Victoria.

The electric bill was missed once, and her children sometimes were given hand-me-down clothes from family. The gas light in her vehicle turned on many times, she said.

She also borrowed money from her grandmother.

Having Harvey around was a big help, she said.

"I couldn't have done it without him," New said.

Respiratory Care

New is excited to get her degree to care for people who have breathing and cardiopulmonary disorders.

New has been getting respiratory therapist training at Warm Springs Speciality Hospital.

She likes seeing patients progress.

"At the beginning of their six weeks in the pulmonary rehab, they're having to use a wheelchair to get from point A to point B," New said. "At the end of the six weeks, they are walking in and out of that building without stopping. What you helped the patient learn about their disease has completely changed them and made a huge impact on their life."

She also likes getting to know her patients, especially those hospitalized for long-term care, she said.

Respiratory therapist jobs are considered to be one of the top 10 fastest growing allied health careers, according to healthdegrees.com.

Salaries range between $37,920 and more than $69,800, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Having a big salary jump once New finds a job will be a big help for the family, she said.

"With being employed as a respiratory therapist, I'll be able to do the simple things," New said. "I'll be able to provide a house for my kids. If I wanted to take my kids on a vacation, I won't have to wait until my income tax return comes in."

New's two primary professors in the respiratory program got to know her well.

"Through it all, what was recognizable for her is that she was always on time and rarely missed a day of school," said Chris Kallus, the respiratory care program coordinator. "She was always here early or on time and ready to go."

New has a lot of strength, said Ceci Oldmixon, the program's clinical director.

"Amber is a unique individual," Oldmixon said. "She's a very strong-willed, very determined young lady who has excelled well in our program."

New said that if she had to, she would do this all over again for her children's sake.

She wants her children to be proud of her.

"It was all worth it," she said. "Every tear shed, every time I said, 'I quit, I can't take this anymore,' all of it was worth it."

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