The Chance for a Boundless Future
When she was 13 years old, Jahan Asad woke from a nap to a terrifying discovery: She was paralyzed from the neck down and struggling to breathe. She began to scream.
Her family rushed her to the hospital — where she spent the next week undergoing tests and, with the help of pain medication and physical therapy, regained the ability to walk and do other routine tasks. Her doctors couldn’t figure out what had caused the temporary paralysis, and she left the hospital assuming it was an isolated incident.
That turned out to be wishful thinking.
"My brain had completely forgotten how to do basic life activities, such as changing my clothes, writing and even speaking to others."
By the time Asad was a freshman at Aloha (Ore.) High School, she had suffered almost a hundred episodes of paralysis, which caused severe back pain, and had been in and out of the hospital many times, once for two months.
“The pain eventually became unbearable, and I started to lose hope,” said Asad, an incoming Pacific University student. “As I started becoming weaker, my team of doctors became stronger and was determined not to give up on me.”
An Anguishing Choice
In 2015, Asad’s neurosurgeon proposed a risky, experimental surgery that might alleviate her back pain. Feeling it was her only option, she chose the surgery and went under the knife during finals week her sophomore year.
Her recovery took months — and lots of intense physical therapy — but Asad was back on her feet by the start of the next academic year.
"My brain had completely forgotten how to do basic life activities, such as changing my clothes, writing and even speaking to others," she said. "After many tears and intense physical therapy, I was walking on my own again."
Asad’s struggles have only strengthened her resolve to make the most of life and help others — partly as a way of repaying the strong support she’s received from her close-knit family, her healthcare providers and others.
Today, she hopes to become a neurosurgeon, and a full-ride scholarship to Pacific will help pave the way.
A New Beginning
When she enrolls at Pacific in the fall of 2018, Asad, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, will be the first person in her immediate family to attend college, and one of the first women in her family to have completed high school.
She’s the recipient of Pacific’s scholarship for graduates of the Beaverton School District’s Early College High School program, which she entered her junior year because it gave her the flexibility she needed to attend to her healthcare needs and continue her education.
“I want to go into neurosurgery and help people and give them the hope that I once had lost,” said Asad, who’s quick with a smile and exudes quiet confidence.
“To be accepted to Pacific, I am not only breaking barriers for myself, but also creating a path for my cousins and siblings who look up to me. It would have been really hard for me to attend Pacific without the financial help.”
Following her surgery, Asad did more than just resume her education. She became an exceptional student academically and a difference-maker in more ways than one.
“After my surgery, I realized that I could come back stronger and inspire other people,” she said.
In early 2017, she founded Henna is Hope, a club that aims to bring a little joy to people struggling with emotional or physical issues through temporary body art. As part of her volunteer work at a rehabilitation center in Forest Grove and nearby hospitals, Asad does henna art on patients.
“Healing can be physical and emotional,” said Asad, who taught herself henna art during her two-month hospital stay and found that it helped her cope with loneliness, boredom and fear. It also helped to steady her shaky hands.
One day she had an epiphany when a physical therapist visiting her hospital room took an interest in her henna art and decided to give it a try. He drew a heartbeat sound wave pattern on one of her wrists. It’s a design she has recreated many times since.
“It clicked for me that henna can be a way of healing,” she said, recalling the laughter and the warmth she felt during that interaction.
“You see the intricate designs [of henna art] and that’s all you’re thinking about. The other worries” melt away, she explained.
In addition to launching Henna is Hope, Asad has made her mark in the Early College High School program and at Portland Community College. She has served as co-president of the Beaverton School District’s Student Advisory Committee and in that role lobbied to provide more mental health resources to students. Asad has also been an ambassador for the Early College High School program and mentored other students.
A Boxer in the Making
She has ambitious plans for her time at Pacific. Asad plans to get involved in student government and with the Student Multicultural Center and the Center for Civic Engagement. She also aspires to start a Henna is Hope club at Pacific.
“I am so proud to become a Boxer,” said Asad, who has long known that Pacific was her top choice of colleges. Against the advice of her counselors, she applied only to Pacific.
Becoming a Boxer will be something of a homecoming for her. Asad lived in Forest Grove until her family relocated to nearby Beaverton when she was in sixth grade. She feels a strong connection to the Forest Grove community and hopes to volunteer in local schools.
“Growing up in Forest Grove, I’d see the buildings on campus and they looked to me like castles, something magical,” said Asad.
Now that she’s older, she’s drawn to Pacific for the sense of community and the devoted faculty. But her connection to the university also stems from the long battle she has waged with her own body: Many of the physical therapists who have helped (and inspired) her throughout her ordeal are graduates of Pacific, including her aunt K’rene Sher ’13, PT ’16.
“They really inspired me to want to give back,” she said. “When I couldn’t move, they encouraged me to keep going.” ■
Pacific University transforms lives, one at a time, for our students and the people they touch. When you make an unrestricted gift to the Pacific Excellence Fund, you give the university the flexibility and opportunity to respond to students’ most pressing needs and expand educational opportunities for students who may otherwise not be able to access higher education. Every gift to the Pacific Excellence Fund supports students like Jahan Asad in pursuing their dreams and embarking on a brighter future.
This story first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Pacific Magazine. For more stories, visit pacificu.edu/magazine.