After 33 years and myriad health issues, student graduates from UK

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto congratulated Karen Stucker Rogers as she was awarded her degree on Sunday.
University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto congratulated Karen Stucker Rogers as she was awarded her degree on Sunday. Herald-Leader

Karen Stucker Rogers had no idea when she entered the University of Kentucky as a freshman in 1978 that more than 33 years would pass before she would receive her bachelor's degree.

Life just got in the way, said Rogers, 52.

The death of her father and the extensive health problems of her mother, brother and husband, not to mention her own, forced her to put her educational goals on the back burner.

But Sunday night, after years of caring for others and undergoing about 20 surgeries herself since a head-on traffic collision in 1997, Rogers finally went across the stage at Rupp Arena and accepted her bachelor of health science degree.

UK President Eli Capilouto didn't mention her by name in his commencement address, but he talked about Rogers' life story, saying she was "a student who has shown outstanding persistence."

After starting out at UK, Rogers decided in 1979 to attend the local community college and study radiologic technology. She received an associate's degree in 1981 and went to work as an X-ray technician at a Frankfort clinic. Later came similar jobs at other medical offices.

Then, in 1985, Rogers' father, J.T. Stucker, died of a heart attack. Rogers had to help her mother, Sue, who had no income, with expenses.

Rogers took a job at UK Chandler Hospital in 1987 as a CT scan technologist and angiographer and began taking classes at UK again. But she was sidelined by gallbladder surgery soon after. She left the UK hospital job in 1990. Later, her mother began having serious health issues.

Then, on an icy morning in 1997, Rogers was involved in a head-on collision on Man o' War Boulevard. She was injured so badly that she was off work from her job at the Pain Treatment Center in Lexington for 23 weeks and able to work only part-time for about six months after that.

"My biggest problem in going back (to school) was from that car wreck," she said. "My sternum was in like 27 pieces."

In addition to a crushed chest, she had a heart attack, caused by her chest hitting her car's steering wheel; a bruise across her chest for more than a year that was caused by the seat belt; herniated discs in her neck and lower back; a torn rotator cuff; breast lumps; trigger thumbs; and elbow and knee problems, she said.

"I ended up having a lot of headaches — migraines," she said, adding that nerves between her head and neck had to be burned to relieve pressure.

Other residual effects from the accident include fibromyalgia, arthritis and colon problems, she said.

"I can predict the weather by my aches and pains," she said. Bad chest pains mean it's going to rain soon, she said.

In 2007, Rogers returned to UK HealthCare as a clinical educator in radiology. She also met her future husband, Micah, a nurse, online that year. The two married several months later.

After returning to UKHealthCare, Rogers decided to try going back to school.

"I started with one class at a time, but my first semester I had to drop out because my brother was really, really sick," she said.

Rogers decided to try school again in January 2009, taking classes at night while working full-time during the day. She completed all of the coursework she needed for a degree in clinical leadership and management, despite having to be hospitalized again for health issues stemming from the wreck and despite her husband's being hospitalized for leg problems.

"It's been kind of challenging health-wise around my house," she said.

So, how has school changed from 1978 to 2012?

For one thing, tuition was about $250 a semester in 1978; now classes cost about $400 per credit hour, she said, adding that she's thankful UK allows employees to take a certain number of credit hours a semester for free.

"Back then (in 1978), we didn't have computers. ... There were no Excel spreadsheets," she said. When she returned to college in 2009, some of Rogers' books were e-books instead of hard-bound or paperback volumes. She didn't have to go to the library at all this last time at college because she could get everything she needed online, she said.

Rogers is thinking about pursuing a master's degree in health informatics technology online from Northern Kentucky University.

"I am going to take the summer and think about it, pray about it," she said.

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