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Sunday will be a very special Mother’s Day for WCSU graduate Maria Lainez

Maria Lainez and her daughter, Sophia Padilla, at Lainez's 2020 NCC graduation
Maria Lainez and her daughter, Sophia Padilla, at Lainez's 2020 NCC graduation
Maria Lainez and her daughter, Sophia Padilla, at Lainez’s 2020 NCC graduation.

DANBURY, Connecticut — Norwalk resident Maria Lainez will be one of more than 930 students who will receive undergraduate degrees at Western Connecticut State University’s 126th Commencement on Sunday, May 12. Undoubtedly, she is probably one of hundreds of mothers who will be spending at least part of their Mother’s Day at the Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport to participate in the ceremony either as a proud parent of a graduate, a relative of a graduate, or as the graduate themself.

Lainez is overjoyed to spend this Mother’s Day at her college graduation with her daughter, Sophia Padilla, age 7, because there were times during her studies for a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management degree that it was uncertain whether Sophia would live to see her mother receive her degree. Not only has Sophia survived, she has thrived — and will accompany her mother across the stage when Lainez receives her degree.

Getting a college degree presents its challenges for almost all students in one way or another. But Lainez had so many obstacles to overcome to get to this weekend, that it almost takes your breath away — which is exactly what happened to her daughter, Sophia, at age 5.

“In 2022, when Sophia was five, she was old enough to receive the Covid vaccine,” Lainez recalled. “Not long after, I noticed she became exhausted when running and playing. Her resting heart rate was too high. Worried that it might be a side effect from the vaccine, I took her to her pediatrician, who referred us to Yale. At Yale, they determined that Sophia in fact had an atrial heart defect from birth. It had nothing to do with the vaccine. The next step was a cardiac catheterization to try to resolve the problem, but it was not successful.”

At this time, Lainez was progressing through her courses at WCSU’s Ancell School of Business — an accomplishment that in itself was impressive considering that she had arrived in the United States at age 19 from Honduras and had to learn English first. After completing ESL classes, Lainez attended Norwalk Community College and received an associate degree in science in spring 2020. That fall, she began her studies at WCSU as the Covid-19 pandemic grew.

Sophia Padilla at her 6th birthday party, 15 days after her open-heart surgery
Sophia Padilla at her 6th birthday party, 15 days after her open-heart surgery.

She had overcome many hurdles to get this far, and now well into her studies, she had a seriously ill five-year-old with cardiac issues. “Sophia needed open-heart surgery, and it took place on March 14, 2023,” Lainez said. “They had to completely stop her heart to do the surgery. Imagine how I felt as her mother.”

Lainez said she had the opportunity to be helped by many during this stressful time period. “I am immensely grateful to God first; my WCSU professors who helped me switch my classes to night and online; and my husband William, parents Jose and Suyapa, and siblings Carlos, Blanca and Tatiana for their steadfast help during challenging times; their support has been my anchor and guiding light. My mom has been my biggest support during this journey because she takes care of Sophia when I have to study and Sophia loves her as if she were her mom, too,” Lainez said.

One year post-surgery, Lainez said Sophia is doing well. About 5% of her blood still backflows, which requires her to premedicate for dental procedures and the like, but she is healthy and active and likely no more surgery is required. So, this Mother’s Day graduation feels extra special.

“Now that I am receiving my degree,” Lainez said, “I can look back and say the last few years were difficult. I was nervous about my baby most of the time — she faced so many risks. That’s why now, I want to walk with her to cross the stage. We both suffered so much and it’s an honor to have her with me now. I think it’s important to demonstrate that despite many difficulties, you can do it. Work hard, get inspired, follow your dreams. I want to inspire the generation behind me that despite many difficulties or circumstances, we cannot stop our dreams. Be positive and never stop because of the difficulty. Keep studying and always follow your dream.”

Happy Mother’s Day and congratulations to our graduates.

 

Western Connecticut State University changes lives by providing all students with a high-quality education that fosters their growth as individuals, scholars, professionals and leaders in a global society. Our vision: To be widely recognized as a premier public university with outstanding teachers and scholars who prepare students to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.