Briona Daugherty’s (MS-SLP ’22) speech-language pathology (SLP) path began on board a cruise ship. Daugherty graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor’s degree in theatrical performance. She studied opera and musical theater, originally wanting to be a touring singer for Broadway-style shows. After spending time as a professional singer in Las Vegas and New York City, she began a career performing on cruise ships, including five years in China, Japan, Korea and Thailand. The longer she worked on cruise ships, the more she aided other vocalists in adjusting to life onboard. This included helping entertainment employees maintain their voices for more than two hours a night in a 2,000-seat theater. After witnessing Read more
“Experiences drive us,” says George Terris, ’23, a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) student on the San Marcos campus. “At the time, an illness can seem like the worst thing—but in retrospect, you see that it’s driven you to where you are today.”
Terris’ experience surviving cancer as a young teen inspired him to enroll in PT school at USAHS. And his story is inspiring the USAHS community across all campuses including our physical therapy school in Dallas.
In the fall of 2011, 13-year-old Terris, who played soccer and baseball in middle school, thought he had a sports injury. X-rays showed a hairline fracture in the head of his left fibula. But his leg pain increased over the following two months until he couldn’t perform dorsiflexion with his left ankle. This was a red flag.
At Rady Children’s Hospital in his native San Diego, bloodwork and other tests led to a diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma—a type of bone cancer. A tumor inside the fibula had created the hairline fracture and had wrapped around the common peroneal nerve. The cancer had also metastasized into both lungs. “At 13 years old, you don’t know how to truly think about having cancer,” Terris says. “This is where a positive support system comes in. I did not fight this illness on my own—it took a village to get me where I am currently.”
Undergoing Treatment—and Recovery
Terris went through eight rounds of chemo in total. After the third round, the tumor had shrunk enough for surgeons to remove it, along with the proximal portion of the fibula and the common peroneal nerve. During this grueling 13-hour procedure, attempts to perform a sural nerve transplant failed. But thankfully, the chemo had eliminated the nodules in his lungs.
The surgery caused permanent foot drop, so Terris began wearing an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO), which offers needed dorsiflexion while allowing for optimal function and as much mobility as possible.
After the surgery, Terris had to complete the remainder of his chemo rounds, followed by a stem cell transplant. But once his immune system was strong enough, in the fall of 2012, he began outpatient PT. With a lot of hard work, he was able to get back into playing soccer and baseball. “PT gets you back to doing what you love again,” Terris says. “It also taught me to adapt in my daily life after cancer.”
Pushing the Limits
“I didn’t want to let anything limit me,” Terris says. Today, he wears his AFO for everyday use, as it allows him to continue participating in sports, running, and walking around campus. For surfing, he has learned how to position and swing his leg differently to get on the board during the pop-up phase.
Along with several other USAHS students, he volunteered with the U.S. Open Adaptive Surfing Championships in September 2021. Faculty member Dr. Maureen Johnson, Head of Classification for the International Surfing Association, sets standards for how adaptive surfers can compete on a level playing field and organizes groups of student volunteers each year. “I connected with a huge community of adaptive surfers,” Terris says.
Terris is a brand ambassador for Elevate Dynamics, a San Diego company that makes AFOs. He gives them feedback on prototypes, helping the next generation of AFO users.
His rehab experience spurred Terris to new career aspirations. “PT kind of fell into my life,” he says. “I love the process. You take someone from ground zero to where they want to be—reaching their goals. You see their abilities grow over months and years. It’s special to be a contributing factor in that process. I wanted to help people like my team helped me.”
Finding His Calling
Terris earned his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology at California State University San Marcos, just a mile from USAHS’ campus. After graduation, he worked as a physical therapy aide at G3 Physical Therapy & Wellness Center in San Diego County. He heard “great things” about USAHS from his cousin Viki Hitchcock, who is currently in the DPT program. Terris enrolled in the DPT program with three of his colleagues at G3.
“PT school is a lot of work, but it’s the most fun in education that I’ve had so far. Everything I learn applies to my career. I don’t feel like I’m in school—it’s your job. Your classmates have your back. We’re learning amazing information—and it’s all experience-driven.”
Terris is currently in his third trimester and is on track to graduate in December 2023.
“I already understood PT from the patient’s point of view,” Terris says. “Now, I’m learning the practitioner’s point of view. In class, I sometimes have flashbacks of my experiences, and I understand why my PTs did what they did. It helps me put the pieces together.”
When asked if he wants to specialize in a certain area of PT, he says, “I’m open-minded. I want to let school expose me to new things and drive that choice.”
“In the moment, we question why things happen to us the way that they do—but then we realize that these experiences introduce us to different aspects of our lives. Without those experiences, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The largest PT school in the United States,* the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a hands-on Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Join a collaborative cohort of peers who learn under the mentorship of expert faculty-practitioners. Practice with mock and real patients in our state-of-the-art simulation centers and learn anatomy with our high-tech tools. Prepare for clinical practice with a wide range of patients, as well as for advanced roles in research, practice leadership, and policymaking. Residential (blended didactic courses + in-person labs on weekdays) and Flex (online courses + in-person labs on weekends) formats are available.
*Based on total DPT degrees conferred, as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Data is captured by IPEDS through interrelated surveys conducted annually by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/