Thirty years ago, Patricia Daniel turned down an offer to attend Vanderbilt Medical School. Instead, she married her skydiving instructor.
Now 51, Daniel is fulfilling her dream of becoming a doctor. She'll graduate Sunday from the Kansas University School of Medicine and make the walk down Campanile Hill with an expected 4,000 members of the class of 2002.
"It would've been a lot easier being a traditional student," she said. "But I don't think I would be as good a doctor because I wouldn't understand people as well."
Daniel, who lives in Lenexa, leaves next week to begin her residency in child and teen psychiatry at Primary Children's Medical Center, part of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
She doesn't know anyone in Utah, so she figures the move is a leap of faith. That's how she describes her return to medical school, too.
Daniel finished degrees in chemistry and biology in 1972 at Henderson State University in her native Arkansas. She planned to enter medical school at Vanderbilt University.
But then the marriage proposal came up.
"It was one of those young and foolish things," she said.
She had a daughter Sara Necessary, now an Air Force fighter pilot in 1975. A few weeks later, Daniel got a divorce.
Daniel came to KU in 1978 to earn a doctorate in biochemistry. With that degree, she worked stints at laboratories in Massachusetts and New Jersey, and in 1990 she came to LabOne in Lenexa.
In 1995, she became the company's senior vice president, making more money than she will as a physician, she said. That same year she married David Daniel. She thought she had finally settled down.
That all changed when she returned from a business trip in 1998. When she walked in the door, her husband had a set of medical school applications waiting on the table for her.
"My first reaction was I was too old," Daniel said. "That's fine and dandy, but I missed the boat."
Her husband immediately called the KU Medical School admissions office and asked if there was an age limit for students. No, there wasn't, they told him.
She considered his proposal, and decided to return to school after hearing a priest speak while on vacation in the Cayman Islands.
"He talked about using your talents and gifts," Daniel said. "I thought, LabOne is a great company, but I couldn't say I was changing people's lives."
Daniel said she was concerned about being so much older than the other medical school students. She attended classes with students who had graduated from high school with her daughter, and one of her friend's sons served as a lab partner.
But she said acceptance never was an issue. She was elected to the Medical School Assembly four years.
"I feel like I'm just another member of the Class of 2002," she said.
Ivan Damjanov, professor of pathology at KU, said Daniel had served as a mentor for many of her fellow students.
"It's a different perspective people of her stature and age have," he said. "At a medical school, I think it's very important to have variety. Each of the students has a different background and brings something else to the table. She's extremely organized. She's helped other students go through the hurdles of medical school."
Although Daniel admits completing medical school would've been easier 30 years ago, she says she doesn't regret her decision.
"I can't regret anything I did in my life," she said. "It all led me to this point."