Kirkwood Perseveres Through Pain

May 12, 2016 | Stacey Ortman

Kirkwood (W:250 H:300)DUBUQUE, Iowa – Doctors were unsure Jessie Kirkwood would ever walk. On Saturday, May 14, the University of Dubuque basketball player will walk across stage during Commencement.

“It’s been tough, but I have a really good support system,” Jessie said.

The Hudson, Wisconsin, native was diagnosed at birth with spina bifida myelomeningocele, a condition that affects the spine. Myelomeningocele can cause moderate to severe disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jessie said she considers herself lucky since she has always been able to walk, even though she is in near constant pain.

“The pain varies from day to day quite a bit,” Jessie said, later adding. “I guess I don’t know the best way to compare it, because I don’t really know what it would be like to feel normal. When it gets really bad, it’s almost like a hammering on your spine or a real tight pulling.”

Last year, the pain got so severe in Jessie’s back that it was difficult to do daily activities. She needed a fifth “spinal cord de-tethering” operation. Jessie said her spinal cord was attached to tissues it should not be attached to, and the operation released her spinal cord from those tissues.

“At that point, I really wasn’t sure if I’d be back (to play basketball) for my senior year,” Jessie said. “I spent the summer recovering, going through physical therapy.”

When she returned to UD, Jessie worked with campus trainers to get back on the court for her fourth and final year of basketball. Her determination, integrity, and passion for others has not gone unnoticed.

“She is one of the most outstanding young ladies I know,” said Mark Noll, head women’s basketball coach at the University of Dubuque. “Jessie has made me a better coach and person by getting to know her. I honestly cannot say enough about Jessie as a person.”

He said Jessie was a great leader who earned the respect of her teammates and coaches. Support from those teammates, coaches, athletic trainers, faculty members, and more meant the world to Jessie.

“It has made a world of difference,” Jessie said. “It has been what has kind of kept me here, because I know I always have people in my corner who understand me and I can go to for help.”

Jessie earned the Senior Academic Athletic Award at UD’s Honors Convocation in April. She will graduate with a bachelor of science. After graduation, Jessie plans to attend Regis University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program in Denver, Colorado. She aspires to become a pediatric neurological physical therapist.