Amazing Kids, Amazing Stories: Samantha's Story

Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine

Amazing Kids, Amazing Stories: Samantha's Story

Samantha, American Family Children's HospitalSamantha Ceplina has had her heart set on a career in health care ever since childhood.

"First I wanted to be a doctor, then it was a surgeon, then a pathologist," says the 19-year-old Stevens Point native who is now a sophomore at picturesque Edgewood College in Madison.

With some help from her mother, Kristine, Samantha discovered what appears to be the perfect field: cytotechnology - the microscopic study of cells for evidence of disease.

"I want to work in a hospital lab," Samantha says. "Edgewood College has a great program in this field, and I just love it here."

With Grandma and Grandpa (Michele and Donald Last) living near campus, Samantha is thankful for the many warm meals, rides and laundry service.

A strikingly beautiful, good-humored, and determined young woman, Samantha could have easily viewed her life as the proverbial half-empty glass. Diagnosed at age 6 with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), Samantha has not been able to walk for the past six years. Of course, she has no time for what others might view as obstacles.

"SMA is something I have," she says, "but I have never let it define me. It has never changed what I have wanted to do."

Deborah McLeish, MD, a UW Health pediatric specialist in neuromuscular diseases, has treated Samantha for the past 13 years.

"Samantha's form of SMA - Type 3 - is the least aggressive form of the disease," says McLeish. "It results in a weakening of muscles - usually affecting the legs more than the arms, but can affect the breathing muscles as well."

Samantha's mother, Kristine Ceplina, remembers how relieved she was once Samantha was finally diagnosed after years of uncertainty.

"Samantha crawled and walked a bit late and she never ran very much, but it took until she was six before she was diagnosed with SMA at UW Children's Hospital. Once we knew, it was a lot easier for all of us to move on. We never treated Samantha any differently, and never told her there was anything she couldn't do."

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The older sister of Colton, 17, and twins Tad and Emma, 13, Samantha was a high school senior when she met a young marine on the Internet named Chris Przybylski - also from Stevens Point.

"We never knew each other from home," Samantha says. "He was a little older and went to another high school. He added me as a 'friend' on his page and soon we started going out."

On Christmas Eve 2006, Chris proposed to Samantha and she said yes. While they both plan to finish school before getting married (Chris, 22, is now in the Police Science program at Madison Area Technical College), both are very excited about their future together.

"Chris is very good to her," says Kristine. "He will make her very happy."