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    Law degree caps 'amazing' journey

    Paralyzed in a 1989 crash, Nichole Huie overcomes the rigors of law school that included many hospital trips.

    By CANDACE RONDEAUX
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 11, 2002


    GULFPORT -- On Monday, Nichole Huie took her last exam at Stetson University College of Law. She endured the spasms that ripped through her body because a morphine pump was not feeding her enough of the drug.

    On Tuesday, she underwent major surgery.

    photo
    [Times photo: Cherie Diez]
    Nichole Huie, 25, pursued the law because she wanted to "help people who can't help themselves."
    And today she graduates from law school.

    Huie, a quadriplegic, will wheel her way to the podium in her cap and gown and accept her degree.

    That is, as long as she figures out how to put on the special hood that officially designates her status as a future attorney at law.

    "It took my dad about an hour to figure out how to put the darn thing on," Huie said with a laugh.

    Now 25, she has minimal use of her arms after being paralyzed from the neck down at age 13.

    She uses a special computer program, which utilizes an infrared sensor on her forehead, that helps type term papers and send e-mail.

    During her law school years, she woke up at 5:30 a.m. so that a caregiver could bathe, dress and feed her before an 8:30 a.m. class.

    But the rest she has done on her own.

    Three years ago, the slim blond traveled in her wheelchair throughout Mexico City with a church group as one of three Spanish interpreters.

    She hopes her degree from one of the nation's top programs in trial advocacy law and her fluent Spanish will one day help land her a job as a state prosecutor and eventually a judge.

    "Nichole is always trying to figure out how to get the results she wants instead of crying in her beer like the other students," said Lynn Howell, the law school's assistant dean of students.

    Huie rarely reflects on the accident that paralyzed her. On "9/19/89," she says, a hit-and-run driver broadsided her mother's car on the way home from her school in Hershey, Pa.

    It took Huie nearly a year -- and numerous surgeries -- to recover from the accident.

    She returned to the eighth grade in time to graduate with her class. She did not attend her high school prom, but partied plenty with friends at an unofficial post-prom party.

    "Whatever period of adjustment there was, I don't remember much of it," she said.

    After high school she enrolled at Florida Southern College, where her parents, Don and Linda Huie, also work.

    Her life at Stetson was frequently interrupted by trips to the hospital. A routine illness for most people meant weekslong hospital stays for her. Tuesday, she underwent surgery to adjust her morphine pump.

    By week's end, she had all but forgotten the operation. She dashed off notes to her family about her weekend graduation party and made plans with her friend Persianova Stilianova, visiting from Lakeland for the ceremony.

    "I think her journey is amazing," Stilianova said of her friend.

    Huie laughs at the notion that she is somehow heroic. Her sense of humor and self-confidence helped her face the daily challenge of an exhausting law school schedule.

    Huie said she went into law because she wanted to "help people who can't help themselves." But her family and friends might tell you otherwise.

    "My daddy says I'd argue with a fence post," she said with a giggle.

    Now she is considering a job offer as an assistant to a prosecutor in South Florida. Her parents are eager for her to move south, but Huie said she might stay closer to home, and may look for work in district courts in nearby Bartow. But first she must pass the Florida Bar exam in July.

    Howell predicts Huie's classmates will give her a standing ovation at today's ceremony. Her family and friends will be the first ones on their feet.

    "She has accomplished a lot that you would see a lot of able-bodied kids only dream of," her father said.

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