Cinnaminson native overcomes brain, spinal problems to graduate

Courtney Craig, 25, recently graduated with a degree in education from Holy Family University

Courtney Craig, 25, of Cinnaminson, poses for a photo on the campus of Holy Family University in Philadelphia. She graduated May 15 with a degree in education despite battling health problems during her time in college.

Courtney Craig’s college journey was interrupted several years ago when she developed a headache that just wouldn’t go away.

The 25-year-old Cinnaminson native was diagnosed with a number of serious health conditions and has been battling brain and spinal issues ever since.

Craig’s life has been consumed with injections for pain, surgeries and doctor’s appointments, but, on May 15, she walked across the stage at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and received a degree in education from Holy Family University.

“It doesn’t really feel real yet,” Craig said a few days before the ceremony. “I’m so close, but I’ve had a lot of obstacles to overcome.”

Craig, who graduated from Cinnaminson High School in 2011, has Chiari malformation. In essence, it means her brain is falling out the back of her head, she said.

“It basically means my brain is being squished on the bottom and coming down into my spine and my neck,” Craig explained.

She has also been diagnosed with spontaneous spinal fluid leaks, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and new daily persistent headache syndrome.

“All around your spinal cord you have little sacks of fluids, and I had holes in every one of them so I was leaking spinal fluid,” Craig said.

“I could drink as much water as I wanted, and I would still always be dehydrated because I was constantly losing the fluid,” she added.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a connective tissue disorder that causes Craig to bruise easily. Something as simple as riding a waterslide can cause her to develop bruises, Craig said.

“Everything inside my joints is like tissue paper,” she said. “I used to be a competitive dancer. I had to stop dancing. I had to stop running (and) stop playing field hockey because any kind of contact and I’m going to bruise.”

Craig had been studying at a college in New York but moved back to Cinnaminson due to her health problems.

She tried taking classes at a community college but pain and doctor’s visits got in the way. So Craig took classes online. She didn’t want to stop working toward her degree.

“For about two years, I basically lived on my couch doing school work because I was too sick,” she said. “I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t walk.”

“I wanted to keep going to school (and) keep trying to get things done,” Craig added.

If Craig had stayed healthy and on track, she would have graduated in 2015.

“Now, I’m finally graduating, which is a big deal for my family,” she said.

Craig enrolled at Holy Family, which is located in Northeast Philadelphia, three years ago after hearing the school had a good education program.

It’s been difficult. Not all of her prior credits transferred, and she’s had to miss classes for medical procedures and appointments. However, she said her professors have been supportive.

“I don’t like missing, and I don’t want people feeling I’m getting special treatment because I’m out,” Craig said. “I want to be treated like everyone else.”

Craig’s dream is to be a special education teacher just like her mother, who works at Eleanor Rush Intermediate School. Her education degree is specialized for pre-kindergarten through fourth grade and special education.

“I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in second grade,” Craig said.

Craig has been working as a substitute teacher in Cinnaminson for three years and recently completed a student teaching assignment at an elementary school in Philadelphia.

“It was amazing. I loved it,” she said about being a student teacher. “It was a good experience.”

Although Craig’s path to her college graduation was atypical and riddled with hurdles, her next challenge is familiar to any college graduate: finding a job in her field.