NCH Manager Graduates From International College In June

Kelli Jo Heller doesn’t understand the meaning of defeat.

Despite being diagnosed in 1997 with Lupus, an incurable autoimmune disorder, Heller decided to return to college and earn a bachelor’s degree. She also wanted to graduate with honors.

Two years after undergoing several dozen alternative treatments and encountering days where she couldn’t move her muscles to get out of bed, Heller will meet those goals. On June 9, Heller, 33, of Naples, will graduate summa cum laude with a perfect 4.0 GPA and receive a bachelor’s degree in management.

“This feels wonderful. It’s a great accomplishment,” said Heller, who works as a special projects manager for NCH Healthcare System in Naples. “There were times when I was really negative about what was going on with me. I’m not like that anymore. I’m positive. You have to be.”

Heller undergoes an alternative treatment called chelation, an intravenous method of multivitamins for mercury detoxification. Her insurance doesn’t cover it, so she pays $330 out-of-pocket once a month. She also takes an oral mercury detoxification treatment and pays out-of-pocket for that, too.

Heller doesn’t let her illness or the treatments limit her. Instead, she can be seen running and roller blading through town or playing softball and tennis. For all her tenacity and energy, a lesion the size of a quarter on her left cheek bears reminder of her incurable disease.

Heller, who earned an associate degree in Nursing at Edison Community College, enrolled at International College in Fall 2000 because of its accelerated management program.

“I was willing to put forth the effort to study for a short period of time,” she said. “Enrolling here was the best decision I made. It was the best way to start back to school.”

Heller says Professor Gene Landrum inspired her and other students to “follow their bliss.” She is now working toward a master’s degree at International College.

“K.J. is very driven. She’s intensely positive about life and school and it’s made her a successful person,” Landrum said. “Even when things are rough, K.J. gives it her all. With her, it’s mind over matter. And in this case, ‘mind’ made K.J. win.”
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