Aiesha Grant

Aiesha Grant: ‘Any Amount Makes a Difference’

It’s shaping up to be a busy year for Aiesha Grant. Right now, she’s juggling her studies at Georgia State with an externship in the neonatal intensive care unit at Piedmont Hospital. She’ll graduate next month with a degree in respiratory therapy, and by the fall she’ll have added a new baby to her household.

Yet even with all those other considerations swirling around her, she still found the wherewithal to join the GSU Alumni Association and donate to the Department of Respiratory Therapy. Her child’s future, she says, was a big part of the inspiration behind that decision.

“I do have a lot of responsibilities right now, but I just decided Georgia State was an important one,” she explains. “As a parent-to-be, I do want my child to go to college, and I want my child to have the same opportunities I had.”

‘It Saved My Career’

In Grant’s case, those opportunities included a degree in an increasingly important allied health field paid for almost entirely by scholarship dollars. “I went to respiratory therapy school almost completely free,” she says. “For me, that was such a blessing, because I don’t think I would’ve gotten through school if it weren’t for all the scholarships I had.”

The laundry list of scholarships Grant successfully pursued includes the Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarship, the James A. Lewis Award, the Maymi Walker Chandler Memorial Scholarship, and the Academic Achievement Award, which recognizes the respiratory therapy student with the highest grade-point average. That last one is particularly meaningful to her, she says, “because it symbolizes that students can make a comeback.”

After losing the HOPE Scholarship and undergoing surgery during her junior year, Grant says she was “hanging by a thread” in terms of academics. “I didn’t know if I’d be able to pay for school. I wasn’t actually expecting to get the scholarships — I was just this hopeful student, and it was wonderful how everything came together. I was able to raise my GPA, win scholarships and come out on top. I want other students to know it is within their reach — it will take a lot of dedication and hard work, but it is definitely possible!

“I’ve been given so much by all the alumni donors. It really, really saved my career, and I just want to give back to them because I want to help other students who might be in my position,” she says. “Had I not been aware of all these opportunities, I really don’t think I’d be graduating today. That alone was enough for me to want to give.”

Even a small gift, she adds, is worth giving. “Some people are deterred from giving because they see what other people have donated and they feel like they don’t have that much to give,” she says. “I’d just tell them, ‘You’re not that person, but you have a very big heart to want to give in the first place. Anything you can give will help.’”

Helping the Tiniest Patients

The size of Grant’s own heart is evident in the specialty she’s chosen. She spends most of her days around newborns born premature or with severe respiratory and cardiopulmonary problems, and she admits there is an element of “emotional strain” to watching these tiny patients fight for life.

“There’s one child who’s been in the NICU almost three months and he’s still not ready to go home. His family’s becoming pretty discouraged,” she says. “It does get pretty hard to deal with. We just try to keep hope alive in the NICU as much as we can. A lot of us are parents, so we talk to the other parents and try to empathize with them and their situations.”

Part of what drives her, though, is the knowledge that there aren’t many people in her specialty. “Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is becoming very prominent,” explains Grant, who started out as a pre-med major before deciding allied health was a better fit for her. “And because of that, there are many respiratory care practitioners who want to go into adult care and work with COPD patients. I think that could leave a huge deficit of NICU-trained therapists.”

Grant says she’s also motivated by the joy she sees on parents’ faces when an infant is finally deemed healthy enough to be taken off the respirator and sent home.

“It’s a great feeling,” she says. “That actually happened to me just recently: I was working yesterday and we discharged one of these babies we’ve had since he was very young. Now he is three months old. And he’s getting to go home with his family.”