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STC Graduate’s Journey to Respiratory Therapy

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It was through loss and grief that STC Graduate Dana Outon decided to take the initiative to transform her life and pursue a medical degree. After more than 30 years behind the scenes of patient care, this Saturday, she earns an associate degree in Respiratory Therapy. STC Image
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By Selene Rodriguez

It was through loss and grief that South Texas College graduate Dana Outon decided to take the initiative to transform her life and pursue a degree in health care.

After more than 30 years behind the scenes of patient care, this Saturday, she earns an associate degree in Respiratory Therapy, ready to help those that need it the most.

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“Retaking school in my 50s, surrounded by peers younger than my own children certainly wasn’t an easy journey,” she shared. “There were many events that led me to today. Within six months I lost my beloved boss, my trusted pastor and my husband. Yet, amid the darkness, STC made it easier for me to keep going, helping me pursue and fulfill my lifelong dream of earning a degree.”

Born and raised in the Dallas area, the 54-year-old’s journey commenced in 1986 when, at the age of 16, she made the decision to drop out of high school and get married.

Outon’s commitment to serving others traces back to those teenage years, when she would dedicate her afternoons assisting with the care of children with disabilities.

“Back then, there wasn’t much understanding of disabilities, and it was a challenging time when people tended to shy away or unfairly judge,” she shared. “I enjoyed being of service, helping people, that’s another reason why I dropped out. I just found work more fulfilling. However, I did make the effort to earn my General Education Diploma (GED) shortly after.”

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Over the next couple of decades, Outon remained dedicated to her roles as a loving wife, mother and stepmother, juggling her family responsibilities while also working in a range of positions, from restaurants to retail, and most notably, as a medical assistant in various clinics.

In 2011, amidst the dissolution of her marriage and with her children grown, Outon found herself drawn to the Rio Grande Valley after visiting a friend and falling in love with the area. She decided to make it her new home. 

STC Image

“I just fell in love with the place, the community. There’s such a warm vibe here, and I adore the people. It became a healing place for me,” she said. “It was here where I met someone and remarried.”

However, through the COVID-19 pandemic, Outon faced several losses, from death to divorce. It was during this period of transformation that she realized it was time to return to school. 

So, in 2021, Outon found strength in her family and her religious community to transition back to student life after 30 years, tackling her prerequisites and core classes slowly, but surely. 

“In 2022, I got accepted into the Respiratory Therapy program, I was committed to graduate,” said Outon.

Faced with the financial challenges of being on her own, Outon applied for a work-study position at STC’s Teaching and Learning Center, a decision that would open doors to yet another welcoming and supportive community at the college.

Throughout the two-year program, Outon’s struggles were alleviated through numerous scholarship and grant opportunities, along with a salary raise and stipend. 

“It was incredible; just when I thought I’d run out of money, another opportunity arose. From a Valley Initiative for Development and Advanement (VIDA) scholarship and COVID assistance grants to the National Respiratory Care scholarship, I have been helped in so many ways,” she explained. “And then, STC President Ricardo Solis gave us all a raise, boosting my hourly wage from $9 to $15. It made a huge difference.” 

After two years of juggling schoolwork, a part-time job and clinical rotations, Outon is ready to finally fulfill her dream of becoming a therapist, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to assume the responsibility of helping people breathe better.

“I chose this program because it was one of the quickest paths toward becoming a therapist, I also realized, especially after the pandemic, the world needs more respiratory therapists,” she said. “At the clinic we often worked with patients facing respiratory problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, and I also lost many relatives, including my grandmother, from lung disease. These are the patients I really want to help.” 

While many STC graduates transition into hospital roles, often being recruited before graduation, Outon’s passion lies elsewhere: her ultimate goal is in home health care. 

“Many patients stay at home because they rely on ventilators and advanced cardiovascular life support. These are the people you don’t typically see, and I want to be there for them and their caregivers,” she said. “I want to be of service and help those taking care of their loved ones by ensuring their respiratory equipment is functioning properly and that they’re stable.”

Outon added that the Valley and STC have become more than a home. “Thanks to STC, I get to graduate, without debt, as I become licensed and enter my field.”

Outon will be one of more than 3,000 students earning certificates, associate and bachelor’s degrees during STC’s Commencement Ceremonies on Friday and Saturday at the Bert Ogden Arena.  

For more information on the STC’s Respiratory Therapy Associate or other health care programs offered, visit nah.southtexascollege.edu or call 956-872-3100.

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