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Chamberlain native turns personal health challenges into passion for helping others

kanbi nippling
Kanbi Knippling is set to graduate with two bachelor's degrees. This puts her one step closer to becoming a counselor.

Kanbi Knippling was told she would never attend college. In fact, her parents were told she might not live at all.

“When I was born, my parents were told I was either going to be a stillborn, or that they were going to want to put me in a home,” Knippling said. “They said I would never go to school, would never be able to live independently … would never be able to do any of that stuff.”

She is about to graduate with two bachelor’s degrees, one in psychology and the other in human development and family studies. She hopes to become a counselor for those experiencing physical and mental health issues due to medical trauma. This career path really hit home for Knippling.

The Chamberlain native has had 45 surgeries, 30 alone when in high school. She said the care she received at the Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls helped her realize what career to pursue. The specialists helped her not just through the physical pain, like daily blood withdrawals, but also ensured that she was OK mentally as well.

“They’re there to help you cope and make sure you are developmentally on track,” she said. “Since then, I have been really passionate about wanting to help those who are going through medical trauma and surgery.”

At the end of January, Knippling said she had gone an entire year without hospitalization, surgery or any major illness. The last time she had such a year, she was 11.

“That’s kind of why I want to do this, to teach people how to function outside of a hospital setting,” she said.

Her time at SDSU hasn’t come without challenges. She said balancing her health issues and schoolwork was complicated, but her professors supported her.

“Last January, I had to have a partial amputation on my foot and I was out of school for a couple of weeks. My professors were great. They said, ‘work on this when you can or when you get a chance.’ They were just more concerned about me feeling better, because they knew I would get caught up,” she said.

Knippling also found support through her involvement in State-A-Thon, HDFS Club, Psych Club, Colleges Against Cancer and Phi Upsilon Omicron. State-A-Thon is a 12-hour dance marathon to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. Fundraising efforts take place throughout the year to help provide seriously ill children resources through hospitals and at home. For State-A-Thon, Knippling is the alumni coordinator. She brings back people who previously served in the organization to get them involved in this year’s dance marathon.

“It’s really nice to give back in the same way people gave back to me,” she said.

After her classes finish in May, Knippling needs to complete an internship to graduate in August. She hopes to intern with children who have autism or work with people who have disabilities and teach them how to live independently. She then plans to pursue a master’s degree in counseling and human development at SDSU this fall. She is looking to complete a double track in rehabilitation counseling and clinical mental health, putting her one step closer to being able to practice; to turn tragedy into triumph.

“It’s been really awesome to not only prove [doctors] wrong and to be here, but to also make it so others can be in that place,” she said. “The biggest hurdle you have in your life is yourself. If you really want to do something, you will find a way to do it.”