Sarasota High senior Emily Guttridge was not sure she was going to be able to attend her high school graduation Friday night. Earlier this week Emily, 19, was admitted to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg because of a blood infection.
Yesterday, Emily’s doctors gave her a five-hour pass to leave the hospital so she could walk across the stage with her classmates to receive her diploma.
Emily's infection stems from an incurable genetic disorder she has called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type IV. The disorder affects her heart and other internal organs, which can lead to aneurisms and internal bleeding. Emily has to be extremely careful not to fall or injure herself.
Emily walked across the stage Friday night to receive her diploma without incident and with a little help.
“I did it, I finally actually graduated and met my goal,” Emily said.
Her goal, however, might not have been possible without her four-legged friend, Roxie.
Roxie is Emily’s service dog and helped Emily cross the stage safely on Friday – in a matching cap and gown. Roxie’s attire was a gift specially made for the occasion.
Emily’s condition requires that she have a home-health nurse (who also accompanied her at graduation) but for the past two years Roxie has provided additional support that helps Emily function more independently.
Roxie helps Emily stand up on her own and can sense if she is sick or in need of medical assistance. She is trained to position herself so Emily can fall on her instead of on the ground.
Emily's mother said this moment is something her daughter will always treasure.
“For the past six years, Emily has dreamed of making this walk and graduating from high school,” said Emily's mother, Jody Guttridge. “She is excited because she watched both of her older sisters graduate and remembers the smiles on their faces.”
Jody Guttridge explained that Emily has had a decline in her health in the past few years. She has been in and out of the hospital constantly.
“The doctors and nurses know how important this is for Emily, so they decided to give her a five-hour pass to attend graduation,” Jody Guttridge said.
Jody Guttridge said Emily's friends were excited that both she and Roxie were at the graduation ceremony.
"Roxie has also been a part of their daily lives throughout high school," Jody Guttridge said. "For Emily, it is a major achievement to graduate from high school.”
On Friday Emily said her next major achievement would be to graduate from medical school so she can, “help other children like me.”