UC Blue Ash student manages terminal illness with goal of inspiring others

Sydney Velazco has overcome numerous challenges to hear her name at Spring 2022 Commencement

Sydney Velazco

Sydney Velazco

Sydney Velazco has to take more than 30 oral medications and go through multiple therapy sessions every day just to manage her health, just to stay out of the hospital. She does this so she can spend her days in a dentist office helping others.

Velazco, who is pursuing a career as a dental hygienist, will participate in the University of Cincinnati Spring 2022 Commencement on April 30 after earning her degree through the dental hygiene program at UC Blue Ash College.

She stayed on track toward her degree while managing cystic fibrosis (CF), a terminal illness that only affects about 35,000 people in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Getting through the dental hygiene program isn’t easy; it’s a very competitive process just to get admitted. Students must then successfully complete rigorous courses that include anatomy & physiology, oral anatomy, and biochemistry, while also meeting the requirement to spend more than 400 hours treating patients in the Dental Hygiene Clinic.

“What impresses me most about Sydney is her perseverance and resilience,” says UC Blue Ash Dental Hygiene Program Director, Luke Burroughs. “I have never had a student with such a significant chronic illness, and all the while she has shown such determination and strength, caring for her patients while being a cystic fibrosis patient herself.”

Overcoming significant health challenges

CF can block airways and cause lung damage. Velazco says her lung capacity has decreased as she has aged, especially once she reached her teenage years. She is still active and able to easily get around, but she will likely need a lung transplant in the next three to four years.

As part of her daily therapy sessions, Velazco has to do airway clearance with a vest-like device that vibrates the chest to help clear the mucus that consistently builds up with CF.

“My everyday therapies are a lot,” she says. “It takes up a lot of time and sometimes I have to sacrifice studying or sacrifice not doing a treatment or something else that I need to do.”

She has also been admitted to the hospital while in the program, but she still found ways to participate in class activities.

“Sydney is a focused and serious student,” says Burroughs. “She was in the hospital but insisted on presenting with her classmates for a remote research presentation they had prepared together. She was committed to her group and did an excellent job presenting, even from a hospital room.”

Support from Make-A-Wish and cassmates

Velazco notes that she is grateful for the treatments she receives through the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center CF Clinic, and for the financial support she received from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which provided Velazco with funding for books and certain equipment that students need for the program.

She also credits the support of her professors and fellow classmates with helping her to stay on track for her degree.

“We’re all like a family here. I’ve made many, many friends and everyone is so welcoming,” says Velazco. “All the instructors have been great; they help in any way they can. If you need a patient (to treat) or need to meet a certain requirement, they’re going to try to help you.”

Through all the challenges she maintains an extremely positive attitude, an infectious smile, and a sense of determination that lets you know she will not stop pursuing her goals. She already has a job lined up as a dental hygienist and will begin her career after she passes the national licensing exam. She also wants to save enough money to eventually open her own dental practice.

Velazco says she wants to share her story to help others who have any type of serious health condition that might make them feel limited, or that they can’t pursue goals. 

“I want to be able to inspire others like me,” she says. “I would love for someone to, you know, just try. I think sometimes having a terminal illness, you think that you can't do normal things in life. I want to show that I am doing that. You have the opportunity to do that too.” 

UC Blue Ash College 

UC Blue Ash College is a regional college within the University of Cincinnati. It offers one of the best values in higher education with access to a nationally recognized UC education in more than 50 degree and certificate programs, as well as tuition that is about half of most colleges and universities. The college is located on a scenic 135-acre wooded campus in the heart of Blue Ash, Ohio. To learn more, call 513-745-5600, visit us online, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.