Emma Salisbury poses next to a playground structure

Overcoming adversity and finding new passions

July 12, 2022
Author: Jenn McGarrigle

Meet Child and Youth Care student Emma Salisbury

At age 15, Emma Salisbury’s life changed forever.

Diagnosed with lupus – a chronic disease with a variety of symptoms caused by inflammation in one or more parts of the body – Emma put her dance career on hold to undergo treatment. A week into treatment, she suffered a stroke that forced her to reconsider what she wanted to do with her life.

“Within 24 hours, I went from being a sick, but perfectly able-bodied person, to not being able to hold my head up or even speak,” she remembers.

After a year of rehab in hospital, then months of outpatient work, Emma realized that things had completely changed for her. Up until age 15, she had been on track to do what she had always dreamed of doing – become a professional ballet dancer. She had just finished a year of studying at Canada’s National Ballet School when her health took a nosedive.

“I was not actually planning on going to university; I was planning on becoming a professional dancer,” she says. “At 15, I had to totally change my life’s path. I had to consider other areas that piqued my interest. I knew that I was somebody who children seem to gravitate towards, and I like working with children. I’m the oldest of four, so I kind of had that in my blood almost.”

Emma started looking at VIU because her aunt had graduated from the Child and Youth Care program and her grandfather had taught in the Recreation and Tourism Management program for many years. Her experiences with the medical system pushed her towards the Child and Youth Care program because she wants to become a child-life specialist. 

Emma Salisbury posing along a wall

“I spent a huge chunk of my life in a hospital setting, and having a child-life specialist help me through it,” she says. “I want to be that for somebody else going through scary medical moments. I don’t think families and children are supported well enough within the system in a way that helps them really understand and know what their rights and resources are. I like the fact that I can come from a space of saying that I’ve already been through it.”

Emma is now going into her fourth year of the Child and Youth Care program and is thriving thanks to the supports offered. She has a brain injury caused by the stroke, and the Accessibility Services department has helped her ensure she has everything she needs to succeed, empowering her to be her own advocate, but also stepping in to support her if the professor is not understanding what is needed.

“Because I have a brain injury, it takes me longer to process things, so during exams, they ensured I have time and a half,” she explains. “It’s a game-changer for me. Taking an exam is already so stressful, just knowing you have the time you need really lowers your stress levels.”

Emma also recommends VIU’s counselling services to incoming students.

“Having free counselling services on campus is a blessing because when you’re moving away from home for the first time, you’re dealing with new issues that are arising that you haven’t experienced before. It can be a huge change that is nerve-wracking for any individual coming into university to be thrown into an environment that is completely unknown and scary at times. Having someone to talk about those feelings to can be crucial for a student’s mental health.” 

This summer Emma is working as Lead Student Ambassador with the Office of Future Students. One key element of her job is leading campus tours for prospective students.

“I love being able to show off the campus. One of my favourite things to do is share my own memories and stories with each building alongside sharing all the important academic information with them,” she says. “Getting to be that person who starts their journey at VIU is the best feeling.”

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