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Mendocino College Foundation Heidi Marie Daniel Scholarship

February 02, 2015

Donor DanielNorma Gibson's face glows as she talks about her daughter Heidi Marie Daniel who died of a progressively disabling mitochondrial disease in 2009. “Although losing Heidi was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do, I am grateful to have had her in my life,” said Gibson.

In Heidi's memory, the family, including Heidi's siblings Michele O'Connor, Tami Mee, and Devon Daniel, established the Heidi Marie Daniel Scholarship for a Mendocino College student pursuing a career in nursing. The most recent recipient of this $1000 award was first year nursing student Sarah Claybon.

Heidi Marie Daniel graduated from Ukiah High School (UHS) and Mendocino College (MC). She was a hospital volunteer while in high school, and she later completed the training to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) through Ukiah Adult School. According to Gibson, “From early childhood, Heidi dreamed of becoming a registered nurse.”

Gibson recalled that as a youngster, Heidi rode horseback, snow skied, and led the same type of active life as her sisters and brother. When she was eight years old, Gibson received a shocking phone call from the Oak Manor school nurse, Vivian Wren, informing her that Heidi had failed a school eye exam. Wren told Gibson she thought Heidi might be legally blind in one eye. Soon after that Heidi began to experience hand tremors and other symptoms.

Gibson took Heidi to many doctors, including specialists in San Francisco, and Phoenix, Arizona, but it was another five years before they had a diagnosis: a rare, progressive, mitochondrial disease with no known cure. The news was devastating, but it did not stop Heidi from leading a full life.

Although the disease limited her speech and hearing, as well as her mobility, she stayed in touch with many dear friends via her “phone tree,” and she regularly sent flowers to those who needed cheering up. She remained fiercely independent, making travel arrangements and taking the bus to distant destinations on her own, even when she was in a wheelchair. She eagerly spoke about Mitochondrial disease to a graduate class at UC Berkeley and to the staff at Ukiah Valley Medical Center.

Gibson explained that the family had a certificate of deposit reserved for the children's education which had never been used. After Heidi's death she asked her daughters and son how they would feel about using that money to establish a nursing scholarship in memory of their sister. They enthusiastically agreed, and thus began the legacy of the Mendocino College Foundation Heidi Marie Daniel Scholarship. 

Sarah Claybon, the most recent winner of the Heidi Marie Daniel Scholarship, is a single mother of three, enrolled in the first year of the Mendocino College nursing program. Claybon said she chose the MC nursing program because of the graduates' high pass rate on the NCLEX exam which licenses registered nurses in California. The MC nursing class of 2014 had a 100% pass rate, which is almost unheard of!

Claybon's plans for the future? “Finish the nursing program first,” she said, “then I want to go on for my master's degree, so I can become a nurse practitioner. Once I am an RN, I will be able to continue my schooling online while working as a nurse,” she said.

While she is passionate about nursing, Claybon said she is inspired to do her best everyday by her children: daughters Sydney and Jayden and son Tre.

Claybon said “I am extremely grateful for the Heidi Marie Daniel Scholarship which paid for all my books this year. I feel fortunate to have been chosen to remember Heidi, the amazing young woman who gave to so many during her lifetime, and continues to give to others, through this perpetual scholarship.”

For more information about the Mendocino College Foundation, or to donate towards any of our programs, call 707-467-1018.

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