Gabrielle Wanek: Finding my place at school

Jun 20, 2018 | Suzanne Ferguson | @suzannerferguson

Color run

During my freshman year of college, I was a theater major. I was passionate about theater in middle school and into high school. That’s what drove me into the field. I loved the roar of the crowd and the blinding lights that filtered across the stage. I cherished the butterflies of the first performance, the feeling of nerves before you walk out from behind the curtain. I loved when my heart pounded in my chest from the energy that lurked. I ached for the stage that I had left hours before; it was an addiction. The adrenaline pulsed just under the surface of everyone who was a part of the performance. It was intoxicating to us.

When I went to college, that energy still remained as I was welcomed into the Performing Arts program with open arms. I learned how to make costumes, and work behind the stage rather than prancing around on the set. After nearly a year and a half of being a theater major, the grueling hours to complete productions and rehearsals were starting to kill the luster of the major and ended up just being too much for me. My excitement for the performing arts came to a screeching halt. During the day I was in class and then I was at the theater until late in the night. I soon realized I could not keep going like this and and I decided to change my direction.

I looked into taking up a business major but there was no interest there for me. There was nothing about it that made the heart pump and the energy run through my veins. I wanted the excitement back that I had performing, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it back until I walked on a stage. I didn’t want to go back to that life, however, so I kept looking. The medical field was never an option for me. After growing up with my heart defect, I knew I wanted nothing to do with it. I hated that too clean smell that all hospitals have and I’m not overly fond of blood or needles.

I didn’t know where to go, or which direction to turn because everything drew me back to the theater. I kept trying to find a place that I fit in, a place where I could comfortably be myself and have a life outside of the major. I’m sure many people can relate to the feeling of searching for a path to call their own.

In all honesty, it was an accident that I met him. I was walking to my professor’s office and wasn’t paying attention. I walked right into him. I felt like an idiot as I dumped all of my books on the floor, exactly like you see in the movies, as I plowed right into a professor. How embarrassing! And to top it off, it was a professor that I didn’t even know so I couldn’t play it off. With a red face, I started picking up my books and the professor starts helping me. He grabbed the few pieces of paper that I had shoved into my text book one of which was an essay I was preparing to hand into my English professor. I wasn’t really paying attention to him as I tried to quickly gather my things and take off when he caught my attention. He was reading over my essay on video game culture and how it influences the new generations.

“You wrote this?”

“Yes, it is for my opinion writing class.”  

“What’s your major?”

“English writing.” He only smiled at me.

“I think you’re in the wrong major. Have you ever hear of games and interactive media?”

All I could do in response was shake my head no. Gathering the rest of my materials, he walked with me to my English professor’s office to drop off the essay. He then proceeded to show me to his office as we talked about the different games we’ve played, and offered more information on the major. His office was a collection of old video games, statuettes, posters, and so much more. Soon enough, I changed my major to communication with a focus in games and interactive media. Let’s just say my adrenaline started running through my veins like it hadn’t in months.

Check back in next week to read more about Gabrielle Wanek, a twenty-three-year-old living with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. 

The Todd and Karen Wanek Family Program for Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) is a collaborative network of specialists bonded by the vision of finding solutions for individuals affected by congenital heart defects including HLHS. The specialized team is addressing the various aspects of these defects by using research and clinical strategies ranging from basic science to diagnostic imaging to regenerative therapies. Email the program at to learn more.

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the HLHS blog.

Please sign in or register to post a reply.