WEST NEWTON (KDKA) — There will be applause, and perhaps a few tears, when a Biochemistry major from West Newton accepts her diploma at Saint Vincent College on Saturday.

Biochemistry major Christie Cyktor was born with a muscle weakening condition called Anthrogryposis.

“Hello, Dr. Caryl.” Entering the lab in her wheelchair, she greets Dr. Caryl Fish, her faculty advisor on a senior project to overcome masking agents for morphine in drug tests.

“It was never a burden,” Dr. Fish says. “It just seemed like this is what she did, and she would figure out a way to do it.”

Christie says her college was receptive to her needs.

“If I say, hey, can you put a handicapped button on this door, then it’s up within a week,” Christie says. “They’ve been great about making sure I have the greatest college experience that I can.”

The tattoo on Christie’s arm tells a poignant story. “Inter-linking L and J for my parents’ initials,” she explains. “My brother and my sisters and myself all got the tattoo in their memory.”

Her college years have been marked by tragedies that might have stopped other students in their tracks.

Before her sophomore year, her mother died of cancer.

A heart attack claimed her father’s life last spring.

Christie was a freshman when she started the campus chapter of “Colleges against Cancer.”

“This was when my mother was still alive, and I wanted to start the club in her honor,” Christie says.

She says her mother joined her in Latrobe’s Relay for Life. “That summer she passed away, but I decided I wanted St. Vincent to have a Relay for Life, and really make it special. My dad got to come and see that, and saw what all of my work went toward, so it’s so special to me. They didn’t raise me to sit and be sad about my disability or anything. So after they both passed away, I thought it doesn’t make sense to give up what they wanted for me.”

Bound for studies in Forensic Science at West Virginia University, Christie Cyktor still strives to make her parents proud.

“Keep smiling,” she says, “because that’s what they would have wanted.”

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