Career and Technical Education (CTE) of St. Johns County

Menendez High Academy grad battles kidney disease, hopes to become a doctor


By the time Victoria Cochrane was 12 years old, she was taking 60 pills a day.

By 18, she had visited 37 doctors before being diagnosed with cystinosis, a rare kidney disease.

“Everybody has their normal,” said Cochrane, 18, who just graduated from Pedro Menendez High School. “My normal is just taking my medicine four times a day.”

Yanetta Arnold, dean of students at Menendez High, said she nominated Cochrane as a Times-Union Remarkable Senior because behind the scenes she has overcome a lot.

“But in the forefront, she continues to shine,” she said.

Arnold first met Cochrane when she was in seventh grade at a high school showcase.

At the time, Cochrane was in physical therapy to strengthen her muscles and bones. She’d already had two knee surgeries due to rickets, a bone disease that can cause fractures and deformities, brought on by her kidney disease.

To get her strength back, Cochrane began equestrian therapy. She rode her horse, Jade, every day. She learned to barrel race. Then the pain reached her spine. It brought migraines and vomiting. Kids would tease her for using a walker to get around.

Few came to visit while she was recovering from her surgeries. She said she learned early on who her true friends were and now enjoys spending afternoons with them at the beach.

At 16, Cochrane underwent spinal surgery to help the curvature of her spine, which had also become weakened by rickets. She had to give up horseback riding.

“That might have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “I was out there with her every day.”

But Cochrane set her sights on a new animal.

“We traded in a horse for a German shepherd,” said her mother, Alena Cochrane.

She named her service dog Avinash, an Indian word meaning indestructible. She’s trained to alert Cochrane’s mother and father, Travis, when she gets sick and is learning how to bark and nuzzle her owner to remind her to take her medication throughout the day.

Cochrane said Avinash has given her a reason to get out of bed in the mornings, which were often filled with fatigue and nausea before school.

During her senior year, Cochrane missed half of the school year. But through Mendendez’s Flagler Hospital Academy of Medical & Health Careers, she was able to visit each department at Flagler Hospital and earn her EKG and CPR certifications.

Eventually, Cochrane will require a kidney transplant. For now, her dream is to earn her medical degree at the University of Florida after attending St. Johns River State College. She wants to be an emergency room doctor or surgeon.

Her mother said her graduation would not be possible without the understanding of the administration.

Arnold said her mother’s constant communication made it possible for Cochrane to finish all of her assignments — and graduate on time.

“Because of her own personal experiences I know without a shadow of a doubt that she would be a great asset to the medical community,” Arnold said.

Her mother and teachers agree her compassion and empathy will make her a great doctor.

“I know what it’s like being on the other side of the table,” Cochrane said. “They’re not just a number.”

Ariella Phillips: (904) 359-4162