cassie s. mitchell, ph.d.

 

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Biography

 

pole_bendingDr. Cassie Mitchell was born and raised in Oklahoma.  The only child of two teachers, she grew up on a small family farm in the accompaniment of a host of animals-- cows, ducks, chickens, guineas, goats, pigs, dogs, cats and especially horses.  Cassie began riding her first horse at age 2.  As a young teenager, Cassie trained her Paint horse Misty Jet, a young retired race horse purchased by her Grandfather as a Christmas gift, to do Western speed events (barrel racing, pole bending, stake race, and goat tying).  By the time Cassie was age 16, the duo had amassed four World Championship event titles, two All-around World Championship titles and numerous other state and national championships. Like most members of farming and rural communities, Cassie was an active member of 4-H (age 8-17), an organization teaching life, family, and community service skills, and was ultimately inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame.

 

From an early age, Cassie excelled as an athlete in gymnastics (age 2-10), dance (age 2-17), and running (age 5-17).  As a gymnast Cassie trained many hours a week with an elite team and competed in statewide competitions, where she excelled most at the beam and floor.  Ultimately, Cassie’s passion became running.  Even as young as age six, Cassie enjoyed running with her father on the 2 miles of gravel road near their home.  However, major setbacks in her health as a pre-teen, due to severe asthma that required hospitalization in the Intensive Care Unit, threatened to end her potential running career.  In fact, while in ICU Cassie was told that she would never be able to run again, but she refused to believe it. Cassie was a varsity track athlete at Warner High School and the 1999 class valedictorian.  She ultimately landed a collegiate track scholarship in the sprint events.

 

Soon after high school graduation, Cassie had an autoimmune or “allergic” reaction that triggered a neurological condition called Devics Neuromyelitis Optica.  One morning she simply awoke and could not move her legs. Looking back, visual symptoms, a common prelude of the paralyzing attacks of Devics, had been improperly diagnosed years earlier.  Multiple later recurrences of the Devics over the course of several years wreaked havoc on Cassie’s spinal cord, ultimately rendering her a quadriplegic.  Cassie is now completely paralyzed from the chest down, has significant impairments to her arms, wrists, and hands, and has permanent double vision from the “optic” portion of Devics’.

 

After a one-semester interim following the initial onset of her paralysis, Cassie decided to attend college when her physician told her that going to college would not worsen her condition.  Cassie went to Oklahoma State University on a full academic scholarship.  Going to college was a fresh start in adjusting to a new life in the wheelchair.  Cassie thrived at Oklahoma State.  There, she was first introduced to wheelchair sports, where, as an athlete, she “regained a part of her self that she thought had been permanently lost”.  Cassie excelled academically, winning numerous prestigious national awards, including the National Goldwater Scholarship, the National American Institute of Chemical Engineers Scholarship, USA Today First Team Academic All-American.  She was a leader in multiple professional organizations, including serving as President of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.  Cassie was a founding member of ChemKidz, an organization that teaches chemical engineering principles to elementary students via interactive experimentation and presentation.  She was also an active researcher through OSU’s Wentz research program, where her fluidized popcorn popper was created to assist in the teachings and demonstrations of ChemKidz.  Cassie graduated Summa Cum Laude (with honors) with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering.

 

Cassie’s engineering research experiences at OSU, ExxonMobil, and Syntroleum, along with her desire to pursue medicine, lead her to graduate school at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University’s joint Biomedical Engineering PhD program in Atlanta, Georgia.  She was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and an Integrative Graduate Education Trainee in Neuroengineering.  After a series of rotations at GT/Emory and an internship at Medtronic Neurological, Cassie pursued a new field of research to develop novel methods that could be used to model diseases and predict treatment outcomes using computer simulation.  

 

While in graduate school, Cassie continued her athletic career.   However, a recurrence of her Devics in 2006 forced Cassie to leave wheelchair basketball weeks after becoming an alternate on the USA womens’ wheelchair basketball team.   With her additional upper body impairments leaving her a C6 quadriplegic, Cassie no longer had the required physical ability to play basketball. Consequently, she chose to pursue quad rugby, also dubbed “murderball” as shown in the 2005 documentary movie by the same name.  While playing rugby for the Shepherd Smash, Cassie became more familiar with the Shepherd Center Spinal cord and Brain Rehabilitation Hospital’s amazing programs.  In fact, she volunteers as a mentor and enjoys teaching and inspiring newly injured patients to strive forward in life.

 

Dr. Mitchell graduated with her doctoral degree in 2009 in Biomedical Engineering with an emphasis in Neuroengineering from Georgia Tech and Emory.  Her Paralympic dream was reborn when, with the encouragement of one of her best friends, she decided to set a goal to be in the London 2012 Paralympics. While a post-doctoral fellow in 2010, Cassie began pursuing paracycling, and found success quite quickly, becoming the first female quadriplegic National Champion the first female quadriplegic World Champion in 2011. Concurrently, Cassie pursued wheelchair track and field. Ultimately, she did in fact make the London 2012 USA Paralympic Track & Field Team, where she competed in the T52 100m & 200m and the F52 discus, placing 4th in each event. Cassie was a 2013 World Champion in Lyon, France and set 2 world records at the 2015 USA National Championships in the T51 100m and 200m. In 2016, Dr. Mitchell was awarded¬†the Bobby Dodd Institute¬†Circle of Excellence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIc0V_q9WC8.

 

Cassie is currently research faculty in the Wallace H. Coulter department of biomedical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.  She is a National Institute of Health primary investigator currently pursuing research in neurological injuries and diseases, namely Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.  Her groundbreaking research has been recognized by several national and international organizations.  Cassie plans to continue pursuit of her Olympic Dream by competing in 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janerio, Brazil.