Learning with a Purpose

Cheryl Young studies for a new career to bring meaning to a tragedy

On a rainy September night in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2012, one horrific event altered the course of Cheryl Young’s life. A motorist* ran down and nearly killed her son, Zachary Mohs, and then fled the scene, leaving behind a 26-year-old man in a coma with grievous injuries. Zack, an avid skateboarder, artist and dog lover, was listed in critical condition with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), fractured vertebrae, two broken legs, a shattered elbow, broken ribs, a fractured shoulder, massive blood loss and a severed left foot. Doctors would ultimately amputate Zack’s left leg above the knee.

Zack Mohs
Zack Mohs
“When I got the news, I was in Minnesota,” Cheryl remembered. “On the flight to Alaska, I didn’t know if my son was alive or dead.”
Doctors gave Cheryl little hope that Zack would survive. Their next-best scenario had him living in a vegetative state for the remainder of his life. If he did regain consciousness, he would probably never walk again. He would also have an uphill struggle against the effects of TBI.
“I had to really dig deep and rely on my faith that God would heal him,” said Cheryl, who was joined by her daughters, Amanda and Molly, at her son’s hospital bedside. “The happiest day of my life was when my son woke up from his coma and said, ‘I love you, Mom.'”

“When you go through something tragic like that, things that once seemed important no longer matter as much. I want to make a difference. I want to help people.” — Cheryl Young

Born and raised in South St. Paul and later a resident of Palmer, Alaska, for 20 years, Cheryl left her job as an accountant to care for her son during his recovery. “I was catapulted into this world of disabilities and discrimination that I wasn’t aware existed,” she said.
She became a personal care attendant, or PCA, and used successful fundraising efforts to build Zack a house so that he wouldn’t have to live in a group home. Thanks to the love of his family, therapists at the Courage Center, and generous support from a community of volunteers and well-wishers, Zack is making a strong, steady recovery. Four dogs also brighten his day, two Chiweenies, Peanut and Griz, a rescue pit bull mix, Janis, and a long-haired dachshund, Daphney, a gift from a dear friend.

A new path

Due to her experience during her son’s accident and recovery, Cheryl is pursuing a new career track, becoming a paralegal professional. She enrolled in the Paralegal program at Inver Hills Community College and is on schedule to earn her A.S. degree in 2016.
“I always thought of Inver Hills as the affordable place to get your general requirements out of the way,” she said. “I researched a few other colleges, looking for a legal studies degree, and found the Paralegal program. I had no idea one of the best, if not the best, paralegal program in the entire state was in my backyard.”
She met with Sally Dahlquist, the Paralegal program’s director, to chart a path for her future career. “Sally is awesome,” Cheryl said. “She immediately walked me through a plan to have a specific goal. I really appreciated that.”
Cheryl wants to do her best to help educate people regarding disabilities. She believes the most effective approach would be changing laws and challenging ignorance with legal action. “As a paralegal I can provide direct support to that cause,” she said. “My goal is to provide dedicated, efficient and flawless paralegal support to attorneys who work towards making this world a better place for people with disabilities.”
Since becoming a student at Inver Hills, Cheryl received the Gordon Shumaker Paralegal Scholarship. Gordon Shumaker was the director of the Paralegal program from 1976 to 1982. “I’m honored to be the first recipient of this scholarship,” Cheryl said. “Judge Shumaker helped shape the program into what it is today. I feel very blessed.”
Cheryl has no plans to transfer to a four-year school after she graduates from Inver. “This is not a stepping stone for me,” she said. “Being a paralegal is my career choice.

Cheryl and her son Zack
Cheryl and Zack
In 2013, only 12 months after Zack’s accident, Cheryl was diagnosed with kidney cancer. “The cancer was detected early, stage 1,” she said, noting that doctors eventually removed half her kidney. “I have remained cancer free two years now. It was a fluke how the cancer was discovered. From the stress of everything going on with Zack’s injuries, I developed an ulcer. My doctor ordered an ultrasound for that reason and instead found a tumor in my kidney. So I tell Zack through all of his pain and suffering, he saved my life. I doubt I would have ever found that cancer until it was too late as kidney cancer doesn’t show symptoms until it is in a very advanced stage.”

Between caring for her son and making her way as a college student, Cheryl has little free time. But she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I am very driven to learn everything I can in my chosen field,” she said. “You only have one life. I really encourage all people to live their life with purpose and not be commonplace, but truly follow your dream.”

For more information about the Paralegal program at Inver Hills, contact:

Sally Dahlquist
Paralegal Director and Faculty
* Police later arrested the hit-and-run driver, a 20-year-old with numerous traffic offenses. A superior court judge sentenced the driver to 27 months in prison with five years probation.

Photo credits:
  • Zack Mohs: Jim Rettew, Barn Raisings
  • Zack at new house: Scott Takushi, Pioneer Press
  • Zack with Cheryl and Molly at Courage Center: John Doman, Pioneer Press
  • Cheryl and Zack: Kaitlyn Roby, Review

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