Georgia Tech Student Cheats Death Twice to Graduate, Speakers Sen. Elizabeth Dole and CDC Director Julie Gerberding to Address Graduates

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole, R-NC, and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Julie Gerberding will deliver the addresses at the Georgia Institute of Technology's 215th commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 3, at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The ceremonies will feature 2,044 graduates, making it the largest graduating class in Tech history.

Dole, who will address the undergraduate ceremony at 9 a.m., has a long history of public service. She joined the Nixon administration in 1969 as Deputy Assistant for Consumer Affairs. In 1983, serving in President Reagan's Cabinet, she became the first female Secretary of Transportation. President George Bush named her Secretary of Labor in 1989. Two years later she became the second woman since founder Clara Barton to serve as president of the American Red Cross. She campaigned for President of the United States in the 2000 Republican Primary and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, where she serves on the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Banking and Aging Committees.

Dole is a native of Salisbury, North Carolina. She married then-U.S. Senator Robert Dole, R-KS, in 1975. She is a graduate of Duke University and Harvard Law School. She also holds a master's degree in education and government from Harvard. At the ceremony, Georgia Tech will honor Dole with an honorary Doctor of Philosophy.

Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH
Gerberding will address the graduate ceremony at 3 p.m. She was named director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the administrator of the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in July 2002. She's leading the CDC's efforts to respond to the world wide outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) for the United States.

Before being appointed to the director's post, Gerberding served as the Acting Deputy Director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, where she played a major role in leading the CDC's response to the anthrax bioterrorism evens of 2002. She joined the CDC in 1998, developing the agency's patient safety initiatives and other programs to prevent infections, antimicrobial resistance and medical errors.

Gerberding earned her bachelor's in chemistry and biology as well as her M.D. at Case Western Reserve University. She earned her master's of public health at the University of California, Berkeley. Before joining the CDC, she worked at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), where she was director of the Prevention Epicenter. She is still active in higher education, holding associate professorships at both Emory University and UCSF.

Student Cheats Death Twice to Graduate
As hundreds of proud parents cheer on their graduates Saturday, perhaps no one will have more pride than the family of industrial engineering graduate William Palmer. Palmer enrolled at Tech in fall quarter 1994. A fifth-year co-op student in the spring of 1999, he was just finishing up his degree when he was involved in an auto accident that left him with severe brain injuries and in a coma. After he had been in the coma one month, doctors told his parents he had only a 5 percent chance of surviving. Then, after the fifth week, Palmer woke up.

Recovery wasn't easy for Palmer; he had to learn to walk again after spending so much time in the coma and had lost much of his short-term memory. But by the fall, he had re-enrolled at Tech and was on his way to finishing his degree.

"It was rough going back to school," he said. "But I was determined to make it."

Just a few short weeks after he returned to Tech, Palmer developed a severe headache. Having had a serious brain injury, Palmer knew the headache could be a sign of something serious so he began driving to Piedmont Hospital.

"I remember driving there and then everything cut out, like nothing," said Palmer. " I hit a pole and a building. I remember walking out of the car and sitting on the curb."

Palmer had suffered a brain hemorrhage and was taken to Grady Hospital. While at Grady a drainage tube ripped a hole in his stomach, which was discovered only after he was transferred to a hospital in Dayton, Ohio. He developed Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterial infection that's resistant to antibiotics. He spent the day with his heart rate above 170 beats per minute and a fever of 105.9 degrees Fahrenheit. He was about one hour away from death when the doctors found and treated the infection.

As a result of his two brain injuries, Palmer's left side is slightly paralyzed and he has to use a motorized wheelchair to get around. His physical therapist doesn't think he will ever walk again, which means Medicare will not pay for his therapy, but Palmer isn't giving up. He's doing his own brand of physical therapy in the gym. He points out after both accidents his doctors didn't think he would live. Once he survived, they told him he would never graduate after suffering two severe brain injuries. Now that he's proven them wrong three times, Palmer said, he aims to prove them wrong again. He may seem stubborn, but that's alright with him.

"My ex-girlfriend told me 'I know you'll walk again because you're so stubborn.' I said, 'You mean determined.' And she said, 'No, I mean you're stubborn.' But that's okay. Not only am I going to walk again, I'm going to run again.," said Palmer.