VC student honors mother’s legacy, aims to make a difference as physical therapist assistant

In the span of eight days in December 2020, Rebecca Leist turned 24 years old, moved into her first apartment while working as a clinician and lost her mother, Martina Buenger, to Mild Acute Ligament Syndrome.

“Throughout my grieving process for my mom, I saw my patients grieving in different ways through their surgeries or diagnoses,” she said. “My patients inspired me to think, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”

Watching a video of her mother after surgery led Leist to change her career trajectory and enroll in Victoria College’s Physical Therapist Assistant Program in 2022.

“In the video, there were two physical therapy assistants helping her,” she said. “That inspired me, too. That’s what I want to be to my patients.”

While attending Yoakum High School, Leist got a jump on her higher education by completing dual-credit college courses. She graduated from VC in 2017 with her first degree, an Associate of Science.

Starting college early also helped Leist get a jump on earning a bachelor’s degree, which she completed in health studies at the University of Houston-Victoria three years later.

“Attending Victoria College was beneficial for me,” she said. “Coming from a home with a single mom, taking dual-credit classes and being able to keep up my grades helped my mom get most of her money back. That was the best part of it.”

Leist recently earned a $1,000 scholarship as one of four winners of VC’s “What’s Your Story?” essay contest and was invited to share her story with employees at VC’s Fall Convocation.

“I sent my story in because it’s how I got to where I am today,” she said. “I am really glad to share my story because 24 is pretty young to lose a parent. I don’t have any financial support. I am doing it all on my own with scholarships. Hopefully, my story can help someone going through a similar situation.”

With an expected graduation date of May 2024, Leist hopes to become a physical therapist assistant in either pediatrics or at a nursing facility.

“I am pretty open,” she said. “I have done outpatient. I just finished my rotation with a skilled nursing facility. My next step is trying to work with pediatrics. I am happy with anything I get. I love working with people.”

With the extra motivation of helping others while honoring her mother, Leist is thriving in school and plans to continue doing so into her career.

“Me and my mom, who was originally from Berlin, Germany, were really close,” she said. “We even worked the same job at H-E-B for close to 10 years. We were in different departments, but we enjoyed working together.

“Instead of being down and depressed about the situation, my mother is my motivation to keep going – to go on and live with the legacy.”

Leist concluded her essay by saying: “Victoria College’s PTA Program is helping me achieve that goal for my future. Learning and digesting everything I’ve seen in clinic when I was a tech is so extraordinary to me. My professors do it with such conscientiousness.

“Because of that, I’m receiving the greatest education to help me become the best PTA I can be. I decided that I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, just how my mom and patients did in mine, just how the PTAs did in hers. She walked; now, I will walk for her.”