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April 19, 2024

Overcoming the Impossible

One woman’s story of struggle and achievement  

By Robert McFarland, Jr. 

The Bolivar Bullet

For Holly Chenault of Cleveland, her life started out with a normal childhood. She was born and raised on her family’s farm and from an early age, she knew she wanted to carry on the family legacy by being active in their farm. However, she was also determined to obtain a medical and first responder career and had aspirations of also becoming a mother. 

In 1994, at the age of four, Chenault began her education at Bayou Academy. Her years in four and five-year-old kindergarten seemed to go just as any other young student’s education would as she progressed on to the first grade. But, during the first grade, various educational struggles started to emerge which resulted in Chenault repeating that grade. Many children repeat the first grade, so that seemed normal until it wasn’t.  After repeating the first grade, she was passed on to the second, then to the third. In the third grade, those same educational struggles re-emerged which required Chenault to repeat third grade. After passing the third grade, she went on to fourth, then fifth when once again those same educational struggles reappeared resulting in repeating the fifth grade. After repeating fifth, she moved on to the sixth, then the seventh, where she struggled once more that resulted in her repeating the seventh grade. 

“At this point, I was desperate,” said Chenault. “However, I was also determined to catch up and graduate with the class I started kindergarten with, but the question was how?”

Chenault still had her goals set on pursuing an agricultural, medical, and public service career, yet many told her she would never achieve any of these. In a joint decision, she was removed from her beloved Bayou Academy and enrolled in a hybrid homeschool program. At the same time, she was referred to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis to be screened for learning disabilities which were rarely known and talked about in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  

“After testing, I was ultimately diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD,” said Chenault. “While many assumed I was lazy when it came to education, it turns out that I wasn’t. Like many others, I was struggling severely educationally which then turned into an emotional struggle as well.”

After two years of homeschool, Chenault was still not progressing as much as she had hoped and Chenault started exploring other options. With the desire to graduate with her original class, in the Spring of 2008, she withdrew from school to take her GED. With nothing more than an eighth grade education, Holly passed her GED on the her first attempt, meaning she would be start college with her original kindergarten class, just three weeks later. 

During her time in college, Chenault’s dreams and goals were more intense than they had ever been. 

During her first semester, she landed on the Dean’s list.  While college was going well, other aspects of her life were not. 

Chenault ended up in the wrong relationship, which lasted five years and ended in divorce.  It was a long, emotional and legal struggle.

But in 2014, another goal of hers was achieved when she became a mother her son Brantley. 

Then, fast forward to 2020 and Chenault had to face some longterm health issues. 

“I was frustrated with some long term, continued medical symptoms that no one had clear answer to,” she said.  “Doctors could not explain what the cause of my medical symptoms were and brushed it off.”

After a lengthy education and career in healthcare, Chenault said she knew there was something severe going on medically. So, she took matters into her own hands and changed her medical team. She was later referred to a specialty medical clinic in Little Rock where a diagnosis was made. 

“Not only was I diagnosed with Systemic Lupus, but also a very rare (1 in 50,000) immune disorder called Common Variable Immune Deficiency,” said Chenault.

CVID is where the body’s immune system is unable to make the required immune cells that are vital to having a healthy, functioning immune system. 

“Typically, children are diagnosed with CVID at infancy, and they do not live past the first year of life,” said Holly. 

Yet, she was diagnosed at 30. Despite finally having a diagnosis, other complications arose due to her body being left untreated for so long. 

“The only treatment options for CVID or SCID is a bone marrow transplant, continuous antibiotic therapy, and donor cell infusion therapy,” said Chenault.  “Infusion therapy contains the cells that the immune system does not have the capability to make on its own. To create the immune cell infusions, the needed cells are taken out of donated plasma, filtered, then sent to the patient. These lifesaving infusions take about  five hours to administer each week and are a lifelong treatment.”

Chenault receives and administers the infusions by using a home pump, which keeps her out of the hospital and gives her the ability to do them wherever she is comfortable, rather that be within the comfort of her own home, while traveling or at activities for her son. A portable home pump gives patients have the flexibility and freedom to enjoy life without too many restrictions or repeated hospitalizations. Since the beginning of her medical journey, Chenault’s biggest request was to be able to receive the required medical care, without compromising her ability to be a mother. 

“I’m incredibly thankful for the specialty medical team who found her rare diagnosis before it was too late, so I can continue to be the hands on, active mother I always prayed to be,” said Chenault. 

While she has struggled in many aspects of her life, she never gave up on the person she knew she was destined to become. Despite the obstacles and criticism, Chenault has far exceeded everyone’s expectations. She obtained five degrees, all within healthcare, and has spent the last 12 years working as a licensed emergency medical professional. 

Her education consists of Associates of Pre-Health Science (2011) and an Emergency Medical Technician (2010)from Mississippi Delta Community College. At the University of Arkansas at Monticello Holly received an Associates of Technology (2012) and an Associates of Pre- Hospital Medicine Paramedic (2012). At the University of Mississippi Medical Center  she earned a Bachelors of Health Science with emphasis in Healthcare Management (2015).

Other roles and specialties Chenault has worked in include Cardiovascular Intensive Care, Medical Clinic, Emergency Medical Services, Advanced Rescue Scuba Diver, Medical Education and Medical Marketing. And she has previously served as the Mississippi Advocate for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians in 2013.

Chenault currently serves as the medical professional for the Bolivar County Fire Department in Cleveland. 

In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family on their farm planting and cutting rice, traveling, photography, hunting, family movie nights and attending church at First Baptist – Cleveland. 

“At some point in our lives, all of us will experience a significant struggle, some more severe than others,” said Chenault. “During those struggles, it is only human to question why things are happening the way they are, without realizing a testimony is to come out of it. What we do during trying times is what forms us into who we are supposed to become.”

As for Holly Chenault, the trials she endured helped her advocate for others who are facing similar circumstances. 

“No matter what situation someone is facing, the impossible is possible,” said Chenault. “During trying times there are people holding their breath waiting for you to fail, make sure they suffocate as you overcome your struggle and obtain success.”