Will Poole ’17: The Power of Perseverance

After a bout of pneumonia and a cancer diagnosis, honors grad forges ahead.

By Dan Nonte

Unexpectedly hospitalized with what turned out to be Legionnaires’ pneumonia and a cancerous mass on one of his kidneys, Will Poole didn’t forget his homework.

His sister and his stepfather both contacted Carrie Thurman, associate professor of health care management technology at Guilford Technical Community College, to explain why he hadn’t turned in an assignment on time.

Will PooleAlthough Poole had to withdraw from his courses that semester, fall 2014, he was determined that his studies were only delayed rather than permanently derailed. He completed his associate degree in health care management technology from GTCC in December and will graduate with honors.

For his unwavering determination, he has received GTCC’s 2017 Perseverance Award.

Poole’s GTCC story started in fall 2013, when he enrolled to prepare for a second career as a nursing facility administrator.

His first career had been in Washington, D.C., working for more than a decade in the insurance divisions of large trade associations. He returned to Greensboro to be with his grandmother, whose health was failing. Spending time with her and her caregivers in a nursing home inspired him to pursue a new career path.

At GTCC, Poole’s first class was taught by Thurman.

“I feel very lucky that when I started this program she was my first instructor,” he said. “We clicked immediately, and she became my advisor.

“She is no nonsense, which I appreciate. She’s very knowledgeable. She’s very caring.”

Thurman remembers their first class together, HMT-110, Intro to Health Care Management. She quickly recognized Poole’s talent and dedication.

“He was intelligent, but professional, and I just hoped that I could stay a couple of steps ahead of him,” Thurman said. “Students like Will keep an instructor on their toes.”

Thurman assumed Will, who previously had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, would breeze through the program in two years. It wouldn’t be that easy.

In fall 2014, Poole felt more and more exhausted. He didn’t understand why he struggled to study, an activity that normally comes easily, and was tired all the time.

One night, he passed out during a phone call with his mother, who lives nearby. She went to his home and called for an ambulance.

At the hospital, he was diagnosed with Legionnaire’s pneumonia, a relatively rare and severe form of the disease. An MRI revealed a cancerous mass on one of his kidneys, which required the kidney to be removed.

Thurman visited Poole in the hospital and discussed his academic options. After also talking about the road ahead with his doctors, he chose to withdraw from his courses for the semester.

After three weeks in the hospital, he moved to a rehab facility where he stayed for 2½ months. Despite the frustration of low energy and the interruption in his studies, he found a silver lining in his medical ordeal.

“My experience provided incredible background, because I’ve learned about the health care experience, the positives and the negatives, from the personal side as well as the administrative side,” Poole said.

He resumed his studies as his health allowed. Although it took longer than originally planned, he completed the coursework for his degree with high marks. This spring, he has earned an additional credential at GTCC, a certificate in medical office administration.

His immediate plans include a well-earned month’s vacation. Then he intends to find part-time work related to his studies while he waits to become eligible for a kidney transplant. He must be cancer free for three years before he can be added to the transplant waiting list.

Thurman, for one, has no doubt that he will achieve his goal of becoming a nursing facility administrator. She’s seen what he can do.

“Will is someone who does things to the best of his ability,” Thurman said. “Even when he was very sick, in and out of the hospital, and had zero energy, he persevered. He got up, did what he could do, when he could do it, and did it well.

“He achieved his goal even though the path wasn’t as straight or clean as he would have liked it to be. It was an inspiring thing to watch.”