"My brain, at times my greatest challenge, was my biggest ally in continuing my path to become a doctor."
Claudia Martinez
Credit: Facebook/Claudia Ilissa Martinez

Claudia Martinez has always wanted to become a doctor. But seven years ago, headaches and blackout episodes led to a devastating diagnosis that threatened to derail that dream for good.

Martinez was a 21-year-old undergraduate student at the University of Houston when she was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation, a debilitating condition that involves brain tissue extending into the spinal cord, which can cause paralysis.

"When I got my diagnosis, I was sent to a neurosurgeon," she recalled to KTRK. "He told me that I needed brain surgery as soon as possible. If not, I was going to be paralyzed from the neck down. And so, within a week I was undergoing my first brain surgery."

Despite her it all, Martinez graduated college with a 4.0 GPA and went on to attend UTHealth McGovern Medical School. But she continued to require operations, including six major brain surgeries.

Her last surgery in February 2017 was the most frightening. During an attempt to untether her brainstem, she suffered a stroke that left her temporarily paralyzed from the neck down.

"I had to relearn how to do absolutely everything," Martinez told KTRK. "My mom had to shower me, dress me."

But through it all—through the months of painful therapy where she learned to walk again and the feeding tubes and IVs—she never stopped studying.

In an essay published on Texas Medical Center website, Martinez explained her extraordinary commitment to her medical dream.

"Many people couldn't understand why I never wanted to take a break from school. While in the hospital, I didn't watch movies or take naps. I studied. God has always preserved my intelligence during my many brain surgeries, and I wasn't going to waste that precious gift," she wrote. "My brain, at times my greatest challenge, was my biggest ally in continuing my path to become a doctor."

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Martinez is now in her final year at UTHealth McGovern Medical School, with plans to graduate next year.

"I want to be on the side of medicine that most people don't see," she wrote in an inspiring Facebook post last month. "I want to work with a population of individuals whose worth and potential is often overlooked and be their advocate. I want to help them see that even though it may be a little different, life can be beautiful again."