Thanks, Mrs. Ussery...

A former student offers thanks for kind words and guidance

Editor's Note: The following is the story of a relationship between a teacher and a student. It's former Dallas High School student Brian Wetter's way of publicly thanking the teacher that changed his life.

I have found to my surprise that life for the most part does not go according to plan. People tell me that I have made it. If making it means having dreams come true then I guess I have. In 1995 a few words changed my life forever. Words so simple and powerful that they will be with me for the rest of my life.

As a junior at Dallas High School I was involved in many activities both in and outside of school. I was making my way through the system with no great deal of direction.

Like most high school students I really didn't have any idea of where I wanted to go or who I wanted to be.

Most of all I had never viewed myself as a person who was supposed to do anything spectacular with my life and really had not put much thought into the issue.

I was an average student battling through math I didn't understand and history classes that had no value to me. I was told by teachers that I just wasn't very good at math and that I would most likely continue to struggle with it and was even told I would not succeed.

There were only a few subjects that held my attention slightly longer than others. I knew that I liked messing around with computers and I enjoyed reading medical books. During fall registration of my junior year it was suggested that I take an anatomy and physiology course. I remember finding this new course very interesting and remember sharing things that I had learned in my other reading with the class.

It was taught by Mrs. Janelle Ussery, who had instructed a few of my previous science courses. As the class went on I found myself more and more interested in the things that we studied.

One day after class I was talking with Mrs. Ussery about a trip she had just taken up to Oregon Health Sciences University where she talked with medical students. We talked about how she had thought of going back to school to be a doctor.

Then she said something that changed my life forever.

She simply said, "You should be a doctor, Brian. I think you would be really good."

Those simple words have had an indescribable impact on my life. I will never forget that moment. I actually remember standing in the back of the classroom by her desk. From that moment on I had more purpose in life and school began to have meaning.

What she had said was not only that I could be a doctor. To me it meant that I could succeed at anything.

The next thing I remember I was going to Valley Community Hospital and begging Will Chambers, the emergency department manager, to let me come in and observe. I think I went back every other day for a few months until he finally gave in. I did the same at Salem Hospital ER where I worked as a "student volunteer" just so I could be around medicine. I was absolutely fascinated by what I saw. My experiences positively affirmed what Mrs. Ussery had told me.

I worked in the ER in my off hours from Dairy Queen for a year or so. When I turned 18, I was hired part time to work in Valley Community Hospital's emergency department. I began taking EMT courses in the evenings. I registered to begin my pre-medical program at the University of Oregon in the fall of 1996. Over the summer I became involved with the Dallas Fire Department and began riding along on ambulance calls.

The field of medicine and emergency services engulfed me. I absolutely couldn't get enough.

A few weeks before I was supposed to leave for school I started feeling ill. This continued to get worse over the passing weeks finally to the point where I decided to switch my school plans temporarily. I began taking classes from Chemeketa Community College and continued to work in the ER and fire department.

Finally, after two years of constant sickness, doctors had finally discovered a life threatening condition in my esophagus. They immediately decided to do surgery in an attempt to correct the issue.

A few days before I went in for surgery I went and saw Mrs. Ussery in the hospital, where she had been bedridden for weeks from complications with her pregnancy. She told me how great it was, all of the things I was doing. She said she was proud of me for all of the things I had accomplished. She said the setbacks that I was having would pass.

My surgery was a success but the recovery was long and frustrating. I was developing an aversion to hospitals after my surgeries and procedures; I began to realize that the passion I had for medicine was tearing me up. I was working way too much and sleeping far too little.

I was beginning to change my mind about my goals.

I remember one night I was working in the ER and I heard that they were having trouble in OB with a patient named Ussery. My heart sank to the floor, normally calm and collected, I started to panic. I went down and talked to her while she was lying in pain waiting for the ambulance to take her to Portland.

Even in her worst condition I remember her asking how work and school were going for me.

Soon after I decided to move and start school in Bend, where I studied computers and math. My goals changed slightly…I had decided that I would pursue plan B instead. I became more and more interested in software and programming. I worked as a system administrator for a small web firm part time while I finished school. Mrs. Ussery stopped in to see my mother occasionally and asked how things were going with me.

In the summer of this year I was hired by a wonderful company, IBT financial in Bend, as a software engineer/architect. I absolutely love what I do and am so thankful every day for all of the help and encouragement that allowed me to succeed.

I saw Mrs. Ussery at a high school football game a few weeks ago and was very proud to share my successes with her.

My experiences in medicine were some of the most rewarding and fun times of my life and I would not change my path for anything. One of my biggest dreams was to some day publicly thank Mrs. Ussery for the few words of inspiration that created dreams and drove me through some of the toughest times. There are countless teachers who have had great impacts on my life and I wish I could thank each and every one of them in a special way.

I never became a doctor and I probably never will go to medical school but I did become exactly who I wanted to be. I owe so much to the person who told me at the right time and place that I could. Today when we place monetary values on our education system and push it to the limits we often forget the power of a teacher.

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