A Life Chiropractic College West student helping people is nothing new. But this student was doing that long before she came to Life West. She already had a long history of embodying the school’s “Give, Do, Love, Serve” mission before starting her chiropractic journey.
Dayanara Thompson is an active member of the Life West student body and has just finished her fourth quarter of studies at the school. A native of nearby San Francisco, with family hailing from Mexico, Guatemala and Jamaica, she has dreams of using her Life West degree to help those with limited access to chiropractic care.
Her first hands-on experience helping people, though, came in the Bay Area, where she served as an EMT.
“I had a cousin who was a paramedic, and I would hear all his cool stories,” Thompson said. “After graduating high school, I went straight into EMT school.”
After that program concluded, Thompson attended California State University-East Bay, where she majored in biology and minored in health science. In addition, she also explored the world of politics by taking a job at the San Francisco mayor’s office. However, she ultimately made the decision to concentrate on EMT work in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, while also attending school full-time.
Thompson worked as an EMT for three years until an accident on the job drastically changed her life.
“I herniated two discs in my back and I tore my sartorius muscle in my left leg,” Thompson explained. The sartorius muscle affects both the knee and the hip joints. “I could no longer walk normally or take care of myself. Standing and sitting were really, really difficult.”
Initially, she was offered opioids to deal with the pain she felt, but she refused to take them. Between the pain and the physical limitations, there were very few parts of her life the accident did not affect.
“I was always walking with a limp,” Thompson said. “I couldn’t open a door, I couldn’t carry a backpack, and I couldn’t do any daily home activities like cleaning up after myself or putting dishes in a dishwasher.”
Getting Back on her Feet
Recovery was a long, arduous process. Thompson first had to go through the worker’s compensation process, which took six months, and then went through three rounds of epidural steroid injections. Doctors informed her that the course of recovery would likely include several surgeries, and that her future would almost certainly include being bound to a wheelchair at some point.
“I went to see spinal specialists, and they all told me I needed a spinal fusion, but with the way one of my discs was herniated, it was kind of sitting on the nerve,” she explained. “They said the surgery would be pretty risky, and I’d either get better, get worse, or end up paralyzed.”
This news was devastating to the young woman.
“I felt like everything I’d been working really hard for just kind of blew away, that it was gone.”
Thompson, though, refused to accept that a series of major surgeries and an eventual dependence on a wheelchair was her future. She told the specialists that she would not be undergoing this series of procedures, and instead began researching alternative options. Her research led her to chiropractic care, which she opted to try in conjunction with extensive spinal rehabilitation and therapy.
After a year of chiropractic care and spinal rehabilitation, Thompson’s injuries healed. Thompson credits 2004 Life West alum Brandon Holmes, DC, who operates a private practice in Walnut Creek, for his assistance and support during that process.
“I feel like I’m more healthy now than I was before my injuries,” she said.
After experiencing the benefits of chiropractic care for herself, Thompson found that her drive to help others could extend to a career in the health care field. She weighed her options and was considering going to medical school in Guadalajara, Mexico, before making a trip to Life West.
“The school in Guadalajara was a U.S.-accredited school, and I have family there,” Thompson explained. “I would have paid Mexican tuition, which is really cheap, so I was on the fence, but I came to Champion’s Weekend and that completely changed my trajectory.”
Speakers at Champion’s Weekend talked about chiropractic philosophy and the Salutogenic model, which focuses on health rather than disease.
“I didn’t really know about the Salutogenic model at all,” Thompson said. “The way I leaned in the medical field was already salutogenic, and my health was already salutogenic, or going towards that model. When Mary (Lucus-Flannery) started talking about the Salutogenic model, vaccinations and growing up healthy, all of those things resonated with me.”
In addition to her chiropractic studies, Thompson is involved in both SABCA and the Life West Diversity and Inclusion committee, and she also serves on the Life West student council as a representative of her class.
“Dayanara brings a unique point of view to chiropractic and to Life West, given her previous work experience and life experience,” Student Life Manager Dani Lorta said. “She really has an understanding of what life outside of chiropractic is, so she can create a bridge given her understanding of public health needs and different socioeconomic communities.”
While she still has plenty of time left in her journey at Life West, Thompson has already put plenty of thought into what she wants to do after graduation. She is quick to state that she aspires to change the lives of people in communities she is intimately familiar with, ones who do not have access to the care that got her back on her feet.
“I know that it’s a passion for her to try to figure out how to make chiropractic more accessible to communities that have not had that in the past,” Lorta said.
“I like to dream big,” a smiling Thompson added. “I definitely want to give back to my homelands, because I’m Mexican, Guatemalan and Jamaican. I want to establish chiropractic centers in those areas because they don’t have that. I also want to establish an orphanage program later on, when I have the resources and funding to do so.”