Before Officer Stella Chavez joined the Bakersfield Police Department, she was a trained firefighter in the small town of Farmersville, California.
She was also a trained medic, which involved two years of schooling, training, and an internship that gave her the skills of an emergency nurse. Chavez loved everything about her fast-paced, first responder career that made her feel connected to her community and the people who lived there.
But she wanted to do even more.
She wanted to be a part of change that she could witness every single day, so she decided to turn in her firehose for a police badge and she went back to school.
“I switched over to the police department three years ago and I haven’t regretted it since,” Chavez said. “I went through the College of the Sequoias, did the 6-month police academy and I would work at the fire department on the weekends. It was really hard, and I had to really focus in order to get everything done.”
Chavez had heard about recruitment at Bakersfield Police Department, a 45-minute drive from Tulare where she and her family lived. She applied and was thrilled when she got the call to join the team.
These days, Officer Chavez is part of the department’s medic unit, a group comprising 6 police officers who are licensed and ready to be the first on the scene.
“I am a paramedic in the unit. We also teach CPR and first aid for the Bakersfield Police Academy,” Chavez said. “Every year we also refresh officers on medical information they should know while out in the community. As a police officer it helps a lot, you never know when the ambulance is going to show up. We have kits that can save lives, but we try to do enough until the medics arrive.”
While Chavez considers herself a new police officer, she has extensive experience in the medical field, both professionally and personally stemming from her own health battles that started when she was a teenager.
At 15, Chavez was an avid soccer player who had found her passion for the game at age 5, until everything came to a screeching halt.
“I got sick, and my parents thought it was just the flu, but I wasn’t getting better and then it got really bad. So, my parents took me to the hospital,” Chavez explained. “I was going into kidney failure and ended up being in the hospital for four months. I was diagnosed with Lupus and Stage 1 kidney disease.”
Suddenly weekends at the soccer field and with friends were replaced with hospital visits and bed rest.
“I was perfectly healthy and perfectly normal and then one day I was sick,” Chavez said. “As a kid it’s a scary feeling. My parents both worked, and they weren’t prepared for their child to be this sick. But this is the story I try to share because I want people to know … you can achieve the impossible.”
Her prognosis as a teenager was grim, doctors told her both her kidneys had irreversible damage which led to stage one kidney disease. Her life would be cut short because the Lupus was attacking her body.
Doctors advised her to quit soccer, possibly school, and to limit her time outside because the sun was bad for her. Their advice was to stay home and to restrict how much she was out in the world.
“Once I was told all this by the doctors, I remember lying in bed and being scared and feeling that life was so unfair, why did this happen to me?” Chavez said. “That day I made a promise to that little girl who was so sick and scared that I was going to get up every day and make her proud no matter what life threw at me. I was going to achieve the impossible. Now, don’t get me wrong it hasn’t come easy and to this day, I am still learning, but giving up is not an option.”
Chavez, now 30, takes every day as a gift.
She eventually went back to playing soccer and played until she was 20 years old. She applied to join the Air Force but was denied because of the medicine she took while on chemotherapy.
Instead, she became a firefighter and a medic and now a police officer.
She continues to play sports, pushing herself and her body with running, recreational soccer, weightlifting, Deka Spartan races that test every level of functional fitness, and every year she runs a marathon for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and raises money and awareness for Lupus.
“Since day one my family has been such an amazing support system. When I was diagnosed both my parents made a lot of sacrifices, taking time off work to take me to doctors all over California whenever I needed to go. I have no immune system so when I get sick, even with the common cold, I get it twice as bad. To this day when I get sick my mom and sister are always by my side until I get better,” Chavez said. “The last 16 years hasn’t been easy, and it has been a lot of trial and error when it came to my new life, but both me and my family made it work, because of the love they have for me and knowing how precious time is.”