Inspiring grads: Major car accident sets student on new path into nursing

Danielle Wetzel

Danielle Wetzel and her son, Charlie. (Photo: Jenny Fontaine)

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Danielle Wetzel was just about to start college when a car she was riding in fell off a 20-foot cliff.

Suffering traumatic injuries, she was taken by helicopter to a hospital, where she had several major surgeries and began her long road to recovery.

“My face was basically smashed,” she said. “I was in the ICU for many weeks, and in the most vulnerable state you can be in. I was afraid that I might die; it wasn’t easy to go through. However, I found so much peace and comfort in the nursing care I received that it changed my whole world.

“Nursing became my passion, my life’s accomplishments and my future.”

The incredible care her nurses showed her changed Wetzel’s career trajectory over the past two decades. She shifted her focus from psychology or social work to nursing, finishing her undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri and completing her BSN at Resurrection University.

In 2014, she joined UIC’s Doctor of Nursing Practice Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program in the College of Nursing.

“It was really important to me to not only go to a great school, but I also liked that UIC’s program was so personalized,” she said.

“They said they understand that you have a busy life and strive to put the program into your life. They lived up to that high standard.”

Wetzel needed the flexibility to finish her studies. She and her husband, Jason, celebrated the birth of their son, Charlie, who is now almost 3, while Wetzel was a UIC student. She also had a full-time nursing job at Shriners Hospitals for Children, sometimes working 16-hour shifts so she could have a free day to study.

“I couldn’t have asked for better mentors at UIC, and the teachers cared,” she said. “They were with me the whole way.”

At Shriners, Wetzel works with children who have faced major traumas or chronic illnesses or conditions. She shares her personal story with them.

“I tell these kids that I was in an accident that might not be the same as theirs, but I am living the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

“My accident was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it was also honestly the best thing that ever happened to me because I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing without that happening to me.”

After she graduates Dec. 15, Wetzel will take her board certification tests and has a job lined up with a primary care office that has locations in Aurora and Oswego. She completed a clinical rotation there, and they were so impressed that they created a nurse practitioner position just for Wetzel.

“I feel so grateful,” she said.

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