Campus News

Living Proof: UK Grad Overcomes Brain Injury, Stresses Value of Giving Back

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 2, 2020)  One day. One gift. Enormous impact.

Mark your calendars! On Sept. 16, the University of Kentucky will rally alumni, faculty, staff, parents, students and fans to support the campus community through “One Day for UK.” Throughout the 24-hour campaign, donors are encouraged to support the college, unit or cause of their choice.

During the first "One Day for UK" last year, supporters gave more than $1 million to more than 50 areas across the university. After postponing from April to September, the goal of the second year is to support the many ways the university is building a more vibrant future.

Cam Asher is one of many students who donors have helped through their overwhelming generosity.

“There’s so many students who want to go to college but can’t finance it,” Asher said. “My scholarships meant everything to me.”

As children, we have the notion that we can be and do anything.

For some, those aspirations fade and more realistic ones emerge. Others spend their entire lives searching for a purpose — not Asher.

“I wanted to be a catalyst for change, not only in Kentucky, but in the world.”

Growing up in Clay County, Asher’s dreams stretched far beyond the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains. He often felt inspired to help those in his small-town community that struggled by the way of drugs and poverty.

“My passion is to change the world of health care,” Asher said. “I want to make sure I meet that unmet need and change the area I grew up in.”

With that noble goal front of mind, Asher searched for a place to continue his education — an institution that would foster success. He was aware of the University of Kentucky and its mission to be the university for Kentucky.

“You hear about the influence UK has in our state and all of the lives it has changed. I knew that an education here was the key to opening doors.”

During his senior year of high school, Asher attended a preview night in the nearby city of Corbin. He eagerly accepted packets of information and chatted with administrators about available resources.

But Asher’s aspirations were solidified when he came to Lexington for a campus visit. “I absolutely fell in love with UK in every aspect. The friendly community, all the facilities and everything else just made this place the school of my dreams, truly.”

Feelings of anticipation and apprehension were intertwined as Asher made a life-changing decision — to become a Wildcat. “At the time, I was a little nervous about college, but I was really focused. I was hoping to be a pediatrician,” he said. “Being a UK student to me meant living out every dream that I ever had.”

Turning a dream into reality can take years of preparation. Asher put in the work — earning the grades, graduating from high school and receiving scholarships to attend UK. But the path he so carefully paved took an unexpected turn Feb. 25, 2016.

“I was in a car accident in Laurel County, Kentucky. And I had a traumatic brain injury — that was very severe.”

In medical terms, Asher suffered a subdural hematoma. As a result, the bleeding and increased pressure on the brain can be life-threatening. To operate, doctors had to remove a portion of Asher’s skull.

“I thought my life was over.”

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Asher survived, but had a long and challenging road ahead.

School took a backseat as he was forced to relearn even the most basic tasks — how to talk and walk. “Ultimately, UK reached out to me. They really pushed me that they believed in me, and they hoped that I would recover soon. And that really meant a lot to me.”

UK offered to hold Asher’s scholarships, but there was no need.

“I said, I'm going to come to UK on time. And I'm going to graduate on time,” he said. “I think that a valuable lesson I've learned in life is that you should always be willing to take risks.”

Asher turned his bold statement into a bold reality — starting his freshman year on time in the fall of 2016.

Throughout his time as a student in the Gatton College of Business and Economics, Asher held on to that confidence and persistence — hoping that his education would one day allow him to open a state-of-the-art health care facility in Eastern Kentucky.

“I want to be an entrepreneur and not only shape the economy in Eastern Kentucky but change patient outcomes.”

As a former patient himself, Asher knows how it feels to be offered a new outlook on life.

“At the end of the day, I don't want to waste that second chance that I've gotten in life. It would ultimately be selfish of me,” he said. “And I think that I'm so fortunate to be at the University of Kentucky and surrounded by so many wonderful and passionate people.”

Though proud of his accomplishments, Asher is also humble enough to admit — he didn’t achieve academic success on his own. He credits faculty in Gatton College, staff at the Disability Resource Center and mentors — like Don Witt, assistant vice president of UK Philanthropy — for encouraging him to push boundaries and pursue excellence.

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After graduating in May, with a degree in business management in tow, Asher intends to lead this next phase of his life with grace and grit. While pursuing a master’s degree in health care administration, he hopes to serve as proof that you can’t allow circumstance to define your success.

"When I want to give up, I think about how selfish it would be and how ultimately if things go as I plan, I could change the lives of so many people and give the gift that I so deeply cherish — a second chance.”

The scholarships and resources that made Asher’s experience what it has been are made possible in part because of the generous gifts made by alumni, fans and supporters of the university. Asher wants to make a difference in the world and calls others to join him.

“On 'One Day for UK,' I want to challenge donors. You may change someone’s life completely just through donation," he said. "Be a philanthropic individual and change the world in more ways than you’ll ever understand.”

Most colleges, units and causes have selected a specific fund or funds to highlight on "One Day for UK." A complete list can be found online.

On Sept. 16, visit the "One Day for UK" website to make a gift, track the progress and learn how the campaign benefits UK. Leading up to the 24-hour campaign, donors can make a gift by sending a check in the mail or by visiting Network for Good. Simply check a box to have your gift applied to the giving day total.

"One Day for UK" is a 24-hour day of giving where alumni, faculty, staff, parents, friends and fans can support their favorite college, cause or area. It is a day to celebrate the University of Kentucky’s achievements and to ensure the university’s future success. All gifts support our comprehensive campaign, Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign, which increases opportunities for student success, funds innovative research, improves health care, strengthens the alumni network and enhances athletic programs.

We only have one day! Visit https://www.onedayforuk.uky.edu/ to track our progress and to make your gift.

Photo of Cam Asher
Pete Comparoni | UK Photo.

Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign is a comprehensive campaign focused on increasing opportunities for student success, funding innovative research, improving health care, strengthening our alumni network, and supporting our athletic programs. For more information about Kentucky Can, visit kentuckycan.uky.edu.