Maria Agresti was a single mom, struggling to get by in a new country, when her 8-year-old daughter, Mel, became seriously ill.
Maria rushed Mel to the hospital and spent eight days there, learning all about her daughter’s diagnosis, Type 1 Diabetes. Until then, she had no idea that a child could have diabetes and she felt like it was her fault. The doctors patiently informed her that it was not her fault, but it is a chronic condition that requires managing blood sugar levels and some lifestyle changes. As Maria became an expert caretaker over the years, her daughter’s endocrinologist offered her a job in her office. She quickly fell in love with the work.
“When I started working at the office, I was a single mother and I didn’t have any support from the father of my kids,” she said. “I never went to school for this, but it was my dream. I love to work with the kids and I wanted to be more successful at work.”
Fast-forward more than 20 years and Maria remained a dedicated employee at the practice, passionate about helping patients who were experiencing the same thing she had as a young mother. Eventually Mel joined her, working for the same office.
Finally, in June of 2021, Maria was married, and all of her children grown. She decided it was time to fulfil her dream and further her career and she enrolled in the Medical Assistant Technician program at Florida Career College in West Palm Beach.
While Maria’s daughter was the first to inspire her to work in the medical field, Maria’s passion for the work, in turn, inspired her daughter. Mel Sustache signed up for the program right alongside her mom.
‘The whole class calls her mom’
“If she can do it, I can do it,” she said. “She’s my biggest role model.”
The mother-daughter duo are accustomed to working with each other in the office and working with each other as students came just as natural.
“Even though they were mother and daughter they were very independent in their education,” said Tanya Schwab, an instructor in the Medical Assistant Technician program. “While they didn’t coddle each other or help each other too much, they did support each other when there was something they could do for each other, which was great.”
For Maria, her struggle was mostly based in a language barrier. Maria is originally from Colombia and in the beginning she struggled to learn how to use the technology required by the course and the new medical terms. Mel was able to step in and help in those areas, but she’s proud of how quickly her mom was able to turn around and support others.
“She’s very smart, caring, outgoing, funny,” she said. “When she puts her mind to something, she’s definitely going to finish it. She’s definitely loved by a lot of people. The whole class calls her mom.”
Tanya said Maria’s enthusiasm for what she was learning made the class a joy to teach.
“Maria was a model student,” she said. “She was always here and always on time. She was always present, not just in the physical sense but present as a student all the way around. She was a mentor to others. She kind of mothered some of the younger students and took them under her wing. She didn’t take any excuses from them and it was good. She was very supportive of all the other students and very ambitious.”
Of course, Maria was most supportive of her daughter. She said going through school with her brought them closer as she saw her daughter change and blossom with new knowledge.
“It was very good,” she said. “I’m so proud of her.”
‘Go for it’
Both Maria and Mel graduated in February and, armed with new skills and knowledge, they continue to work together at the endocrinologist’s office where it all began. Maria said the experience was worth it.
“The best part is everything,” she said. “Everything was wonderful. Everybody is very nice and very helpful. It was a good experience… Never give up. Always work on your dreams and never give up, even when it’s stressful.”
Never giving up is one thing Mel said she has definitely learned from her mom.
“Go for it. Go for your dreams, don’t let anyone bring you down or discourage you,” she said. “If someone with a language barrier that is nearly 60 years old and isn’t tech-savvy, or someone with diabetes–if someone like that can do it, anyone can do it. There’s no excuse not to go for it.”