WSU Tri-Cities student overcomes health challenges to graduate


Climaco Abarca isn’t sure what he hit when he dived in the river near Burbank at the age of 15.

He remembers that he didn’t hit rock bottom, but he saw a lot of blood when it started to flow.

Now, more than 20 years after the accident that left him paralyzed, Abarca has completed his first full semester at Washington State University Tri-Cities with a view to pursuing legal studies.

“There is no way I can live on Social Security,” he said. “Eight hundred dollars a month doesn’t pay the bills. …. This is the main reason I did it, so that I can have a better tomorrow.

The journey back here has not been easy for the man from Pasco, now 36. He had to deal with years of fighting infections and a system didn’t save him money for college until recently.

Abarca’s cousin saved him from drowning on that April trip to the river, but that was only the start of what would turn into a complicated recovery. He spent a month in the hospital and more time in rehabilitation.

Through hard work, he was able to regain some mobility and returned to Pasco High School in the fall.

He took classes with the help of an assistant and joined the Running Start program at Columbia Basin College, which allowed him to take college courses while still in high school.

After a delay caused by his injury, he graduated in 2005. And the following year, he obtained his associate degree from CBC.

Things were looking up for him when he started at WSU Tri-Cities, but his success quickly derailed.

Provided Climaco Abarca.jpg
Climaco Abarca, a WSU Tri-Cities student in Pasco, returned to school after complications from his paralysis kept him out for more than a decade. Courtesy of WSU Tri-Cities

A decade of delays

In 2007, Abarca developed an infection on his tailbone which reduced his ability to attend class while he was receiving the treatment he needed.

The infection persisted for years. The surgeries helped her condition for a while, but the problems would return soon.

During a suspended period in 2012, he tried to return to WSU, but the infection forced him to quit again.

“I didn’t think I was ever going to finish,” he told the Herald.

Eventually he found a treatment that worked and was preparing to return to class in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Tuition fees

Abarca was able to take advantage of a federal program that allows people receiving Supplementary Security Income (SSI) to save money without fear of losing their benefits.

Without access to Washington State’s ABLE Savings Plan, he could not save more than $ 2,000.

“But with the program, you can save more money. It takes money that you earn with your pay stubs every month and then you can use it for big purchases like school and other things. Without this program, I would never have been able to save enough for school, ”Abarca said in a statement from WSU Tri-Cities.

Although he has not yet been able to return to class, Abarca has still spent time volunteering.

He has assisted at Grace Clinic and served on the Board of Directors of the Tierra Vida Community Owners Association. He also volunteers as an interpreter.

And he spent the last year working as a contact tracer for the Benton-Franklin Health District.

Back to class

With her healthy health and in-person classes at the Richland campus, Abarca was ready to go back to school. He said it was important for him to show others not to give up.

“I have my nieces. I always encourage them to do better in school and that is the only way for them to be successful in life, ”he said.

After a decade away from class, the comeback turned out to be a bit of a struggle.

Even though it was difficult, he realized that his health was good and that he wasn’t going to be put off by a lower grade. He enlisted the help of the WSU Tri-Cities tutoring programs and was matched with an additional instructor who helped him get back on track.

“I came back to school thinking I would be where I was when I left school, but I had a rude awakening about it,” he said. “You realize that you have lost some of those skills that you had when you took regular classes. But honestly, with the support and help of the tutoring, I’m starting to get the grades I used to earn again.

He finished the semester passing 80 percent in one class and was successful in his other two classes. He hopes to complete his bachelor’s degree in psychology and pursue law studies at Gonzaga University in Spokane.

He wants to use this degree to help people like him. When he was injured, he couldn’t find anyone who knew the law and could help him.

“If there is something they can do to improve their situation, I want to be able to help them,” he said.

For now, Abarca is preparing for another semester and hopes to secure an internship at a law firm.

“I want people to know that if you’re healthy you can do it,” he said. “Things do happen, but you can overcome it as long as you have your health.”

Cameron Probert covers the latest news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why the police and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communication at Washington State University.


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