Beating the odds

Published 10:03 am Thursday, June 5, 2014

Contributed by Julie Parker

AHOSKIE – Roanoke-Chowan Community College student and Web Technologies major Michael Joyner has received the highest academic honor for North Carolina Community College students.

The Governor declared April as the North Carolina Community College Excellence in Education Month, and one student from each of the 58 community colleges received the prestigious award. Scott Shook, State Board Member of the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS), presented Joyner with the award at the R-CCC Awards Convocation on April 3.

Michael Joyner (center) receives the NCCCS Academic Excellence Award from Steve Shook (left), State Board Member of the North Carolina Community College System, while RCCC President Dr. Michael Elam is shown at right. Contributed Photo

Michael Joyner (center) receives the NCCCS Academic Excellence Award from Steve Shook (left), State Board Member of the North Carolina Community College System, while RCCC President Dr. Michael Elam is shown at right. Contributed Photo

Before announcing the award recipient, Shook began with a story that he had heard about 15 years ago about a young teenager who had been badly burned in a terrible house fire. His survival was questionable. Suffering second and third degree burns over 85% of his body, he had slipped into a coma. Shook went on to explain that the Shriners organization, a group who raises funds for and provides medical care to children in need, stepped in to help the boy.

He was transferred from Norfolk General Hospital to the Shriner’s Hospital in Ohio.  This is when he lost track of him, and never knew if he had survived.  Just a few weeks ago, he was summoned to present the NCCCS Academic Excellence Award at Roanoke-Chowan Community College. The award recipient was that very same boy, now a man.

Joyner’s difficult journey began in 1999 when he awoke to flames and the screams of his parents.

In his words: “I saw no way for me to get out of my room and I told my parents to go without me; I wasn’t going to make it.  My father wouldn’t accept that and came up the stairs to my room, but couldn’t come in because the flames were so bad. I ran through the door of my bedroom, bursting through it, and we both ran as fast as we could to get out of the house. We ran to the neighbor’s house where my mother gave me this look that still haunts me.  She had tears running down her face and a look of horror as she stared at me. I looked down at my arm and I could see my skin literally melting off my bones. My body was 85% burned from first to third degree. The rescue unit arrived and rushed me to the local hospital.  They placed my body in a tub of ice to try and get the burning pain to stop.  I heard the doctor as he told my family and friends there was nothing they could do for me, and that they were going to rush me to Norfolk General Hospital to their burn unit.

“While I was at Norfolk General, the doctors told my family even worse news; that I would probably not make it through the night because my burns were too extreme,” Joyner continued. “All they could do was make me comfortable until I passed. I slipped into a coma shortly after that.

“A woman came up to my mother and told her about the Shriner’s hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, and how they might be able to help me.  They flew me and my mother on a jet to the Shriner’s hospital.  The doctors there were amazing. They saved me when others couldn’t. When I came out of my coma, it was a hard road back to recovery. The way I describe it is like being born again. I had to learn to talk, walk, and eat.

“The doctors in Ohio said the only reason I survived was my will to live. They had seen a lot of kids come through the hospital doors in less-bad shape as I was, and they didn’t survive.  My muscles in my legs and arms were removed because the burns had killed all the muscles. I was in the hospital for four years. The doctors told me that from the condition I was in, I would never walk again. I wouldn’t accept that; I pushed myself for four years to walk again.  When I took my first steps it was one of my greatest feelings to date, because I had done something that everyone had said was impossible. I have been in and out of hospitals for 10 years and I have had over 50 surgeries on various parts of my body.

“After years of surgeries, I had finally reached a point in my life when I could go back to college; I could continue my education without surgeries or injuries taking me out of classes– for maybe months at a time.  I came to Roanoke-Chowan Community College in 2011 and signed up for Computer Information Technologies. I had a class that was about web design, and I loved it. . . . My time in college has been amazing. I have learned things I never thought possible, and I have met some amazing people on this journey. My hands are badly burnt, and it was difficult for me to learn to adapt, but I never gave up. . . . My experiences with my adversities are the reason I am the student I am today. I want to one day create something that people will think is amazing and know that even though I had disabilities, I never gave up,” he closed.

Joyner also acknowledged the extra time that his instructor, Justin McKeithan, spent working with him outside of class, and attributes much of his success to him.

The NCCCS Academic Excellence Award selection requirements are quite rigorous. Joyner has maintained a 4.0 GPA his entire college career since enrolling at R-CCC. He is a member of the Asian Media Club and Phi Theta Kappa. He has engaged in numerous community service projects, including designing a Back-to-Work Program logo, college logo, Small Business Center logo, as well as a career fair flyer and club flyers. He also designed a poster for C.S. Brown School for the play, “Conjure,” and a poster for the Ahoskie Church of Christ. He provides free tutoring for several Adobe programs and assists individuals who need help with their computers.

Joyner was a recent graduate of the R-CCC Web Technologies program and has received his Career Readiness Certificate.