A remarkable journey to a degree

Written by Karen L. Bystrom
June 12, 2017

Steven Jenkin’s academic journey, culminating this past Sunday at Commencement 2017, took a longer and more difficult path than many graduates’. On the way to receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a specialization in Administration of Justice, Steven not only rose to the challenge of playing college soccer with diminished lung capacity due to Cystic Fibrosis, but also a double lung transplant, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and a second lung transplant.

Steven Jenkins, 2017 graduate in Criminal Justice

Steven’s inspiring story was featured in The Seattle Times this week.

From the Seattle Times article:

“I don’t know anybody in my 25 years at this school who’s gone through as much as he’s gone through to get this degree,” said J.B. Helfgott, professor and chair of criminal justice. “I have never seen anything like it in my life.”

This story is excerpted from the original story in the Criminal Justice newsletter.

Steven Jenkins began his life with Seattle University in 2002 as a freshman mechanical engineering major and a member of the men’s soccer team. “Every practice was an opportunity, to give everything I had,” Steven remembers. This is one of many characteristics that battling illness has instilled in Steven.

As his health declined, Steven found that the school work required in mechanical engineering was competing with the effort and commitment necessary for playing on the soccer team. He made the choice to switch his major to criminal justice and remain with the men’s soccer program.

Steven faced his next big decision during his junior year; physically unable to attend class, he needed to get on the organ waiting list for a new set of lungs. The wait began in June of 2005 and in March, 2007, he received the call and underwent the surgery.

While he returned to SU that fall, he was forced to withdraw after two weeks. “I just didn’t feel right and I was having painful headaches,” he recalls. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  For eight months, he underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and stem-cell transplant. Two weeks later he learned that the cancer was in remission.

Recovering from the challenges of 2008 was hard. By 2010, he was beginning to feel like he had a life again. Come December, Steven got swine flu. Although he recovered, doctors believe the swine flu played a part in his immune system rejecting his transplanted lungs. Within two months, Steven’s lung function declined from 80% to 25%. “I was devastated,” Steven remembers. Although double-lung re-transplants are not nearly as common as first-time transplants, it was Steven’s only option. In March of 2011, Steven began the long process of getting listed again for a lung transplant. In 2014, he had the second operation. While recovery was more difficult this time, but Steven’s extraordinary will saw him through.

Fast-forward three years and Steven’s health is very good. His lung function is in the normal range and he is finally getting his life back, after ten years of fighting for it. “I feel very fortunate to be in the situation that I currently find myself in. After so many years of not knowing whether I would ever get a second or third chance at life, I am alive and well.” Steven says.

He returned to Seattle University academically in the fall of 2016 and graduated on June 11, 2017. Steven plans to get a job in either juvenile or adult justice. He loves criminology and has a passion for justice, both of which he plans to combine with his desire to give back and help others.

Read more about Steven Jenkins

Seattle Times: After 2 lung transplants, 1 brain tumor and 15 years of hardship, Seattle U student earns a degree

Criminal Justice Newsletter