Scholarships Awarded to Special Group of Young People | Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation

Scholarships Awarded to Special Group of Young People

AA&MDSIF has awarded $19,000 in scholarships to 18 students from 14 states through the Matthew Debono Memorial Scholarship Program. The 2012-2013 recipients listed below have all survived a life-threatening diagnosis of a bone marrow failure disease. Most are survivors of aplastic anemia, the disease that claimed Matthew Debono’s life when he was a student at Wabash College in Indiana. At least 12 scholarship recipients plan to work in the medical field, inspired by their personal experiences battling bone marrow failure disease. Read more about the Matthew Debono Memorial Scholarship Fund.

2012 Winners

Kristen Cavalleri

Kristen Cavalleri

When Kristen was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia at the age of three, her parents were told she had a less than five percent chance of survival. In a final effort, the doctors started her on a clinical trial medication which, after three months, brought her blood counts back up to normal levels. Her condition has remained stable since then and she has never failed to appreciate her good fortune. She considers herself a leader. In high school, the North Tonawanda, NY native achieved a 3.75 GPA and was elected her chapter’s President of The National Honor Society where she volunteered her time and talents to help several local non-profit organizations. This fall, Kristen will be a freshman at Niagara University in Lewiston, N.Y. where she intends to pursue a communications or journalism degree. She says she would like to have a job that allows her to educate others “regarding serious life issues, including life-threatening diseases, like aplastic anemia."

In Her Own Words

Even though I was so young when I was ill, it has always had an immense effect on my outlook on life. Every day I wake up and realize how fortunate I am to be alive and healthy. It's a constant reminder of how much I have to be thankful for.  As a result of this, I have taken every day one step at a time and done as much as I can to make the best of everything that comes my way. In school, I have always put my best foot forward to succeed in everything I've taken on. I do this not only in my academics, but also in my work place and with my extracurricular activities.

Christina Chen

Christina Chen

Christina Chen says she was fortunate that she never fully understood the severity of her aplastic anemia when she was diagnosed ten years ago. Her parents provided love and support and “were the great engineers of keeping me happy” as she went through the treatment that has resulted in what is today a normal life. The pre-med student has taken full advantage of her good fortune, attending the University of Chicago where she will enter her senior year. This is Christina’s second scholarship through AA&MDSIF as she was the recipient of a Harry Carson Scholarship one year ago. The New Orleans native is majoring in biology and is interested in epidemiology and clinical research. She is the President of the Women in Science Academic Club at the university.

In Her Own Words

Since I received last year’s scholarship, I have become a more active member of the Chicago community at my college campus by volunteering at Comer Children’s Hospital.  I cherish the opportunity to improve the lives of young patients by leading activities like art therapy because it allows me to commemorate the volunteers who helped me when I was in that stage of recovery. The Scholarship has helped me pursue my dreams of studying abroad, as I spent my winter quarter in Cape Town, South Africa.  My experience in Africa has made me keenly aware of the great demand for better healthcare systems in impoverished communities internationally. I am focusing my academic pursuits on the epidemiological aspects of medicine so that I can perhaps help a wider range of people. I am extremely grateful for the academic opportunities allowed me and hope to give back to the community that shaped my outlook on life.

Carolyn Christenson

Carolyn Christensen

Carolyn, whose nickname is Ceci, would like to become a broadcast journalist and she is well on her way. This fall, the Gilbert, Arizona native will be a freshman at Arizona State University. The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism is considered to be one of the best in the country. Recently, she appeared on “The Early Show” on CBS promoting the Be The Match National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. She has a Web site and blog, “Ceci’s Climb”, which is the centerpiece of her campaign to increase the number of potential donors in the bone marrow registry. It also tells the story of her difficult fight with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). After going undiagnosed and struggling with life-threatening bleeding, clotting and infections for six months, as well as numerous transfusions, Carolyn was finally diagnosed with MDS at age 15 and she says it turned her “world upside down.” In December 2009, one of her brothers was found to be a match and she received a bone marrow transplant. Her compromised immune system and low energy made it impossible for Carolyn to go out in public and she missed three years of high school. While her MDS is cured, the eighteen year-old still receives treatment for a side effect of the transplant, chronic graft versus host disease. Despite these obstacles she continues to move forward and says she is “happiest when someone says I’ve inspired them with my words."

In Her Own Words

My experience is one that has made me stronger. Although I missed three years of high school and received my GED, I know that the countless things I have learned couldn’t be taught in a classroom or on a tennis court. My fight against myelodysplastic syndromes has taught me to believe that anything is possible. It also made me realize that I have a voice to make a difference. I had an experience the other day that was a moment of clarity for me. My friend asked me, "So is this how you are supposed to do it when you have a transplant?" My answer was the only one I could think of, "I don't know. I've never done this before. I'm doing the best I can." And that is exactly where I am at right now; doing the best I can in each moment. Living - not scared of what might happen, but excited at the prospect of what will.

Derek Cope

Derek Cope

Derek Cope is thankful to have a second chance. In the fall of 2009, fully engaged in a challenging pre-med curriculum as well as serving as Vice President of the University Soccer Club, the student-athlete started to feel extremely fatigued. He continued to push himself until one day he collapsed in his dormitory. Soon he was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia. He had to drop out of Stony Brook University in New York and return home to Jessup, Maryland where he received treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. One year later, after treatment, he returned back to Stony Brook, still suffering from fatigue and a weakened immune system but determined to resume his studies. By January 2011, he was no longer transfusion-dependent and was pronounced in complete remission. While he is still battling some symptoms, Derek has taken up where he left off. He is pursuing a degree in health sciences with a second major in sociology. He is again active with the soccer club – managing two soccer teams of 25 players each. He plans to seek admission into the medical dosimetry clinical program, gaining practical experience mapping out radiology treatments for patients diagnosed with cancer while studying it in the classroom. He hopes to become certified in that field and after a few years of experience, apply to medical school and specialize in oncology.

In His Own Words

As of now, my counts are still low but I work hard to persevere and take advantage of as many opportunities as I can. I currently work for my university’s Department of Student Activities where I am a weekend life event planner and coordinator. I also volunteer at the pediatric cancer center on my campus to help encourage the spirits of those who are facing similar battles to what I did. I really enjoy the life that I live and the fact that I get to live it in spite of my battle with aplastic anemia. This disease drastically changed my life and my overall perspective on life itself. With hard work, determination, and perseverance, I was able to turn my hardships into a work ethic and outlook that drives me every day. I no longer see obstacles as walls that cannot be breached, but as a boulder that with an appropriate amount of effort can be moved aside. Life is beautiful, and my survival of aplastic anemia has taught me to never take a second of it for granted.

Kelly Eastman

Kelly Eastman

Kelly’s fight against aplastic anemia began in June 2008 after she innocently told a doctor that she bruised easily during a school physical. The doctor ordered blood work and she was told to immediately report to the emergency room. After she was diagnosed with moderate to severe aplastic anemia, her family was tested to determine if anyone was a donor match for a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, her sister was a perfect match and two months later Kelly underwent the procedure. Although she had a home tutor, she missed almost her entire freshman year of high school returning with twelve days remaining in the school year. The experience obviously motivated her to succeed as she compiled a 3.92 GPA during high school in her hometown of O’Fallon, Illinois near St. Louis. After job shadowing on the pediatric hematology floor at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis over Christmas break, Kelly says she decided to pursue a career in pediatric nursing “to help kids who are going through similar things that I have gone through.” Kelly will pursue her nursing career at McKendree University close to her home as a freshman this fall. She plans to earn a degree in biology and then apply to the Barnes Jewish School of Nursing in two years. Meanwhile, she will also play Division II lacrosse for McKendree.

In Her Own Words

I will use this scholarship to further my education by getting a chemotherapy certificate so I’ll be able to administer chemotherapy to pediatric cancer/blood disorder patients. If I can get the chemotherapy certificate, I will be able to help not only the patients, but the families as well get through the hardest time they will ever have to encounter. I would console them and say, “Look at me! I went through it and am __ years out! It will hurt now, but it will also make you ten times stronger in the future.

Kaitlin Gibson

Kaitlin Gibson

Kaitlin says she “has dreamed of wearing scrubs and a lab coat since she was a little girl.” Because she enjoys interacting with people, she has changed course from becoming a medical researcher to pursuing a career as a physician assistant in a hospital. She is currently working towards completing her bachelor’s degree in biobehavioral health at Penn State University with minors in biology, psychology and neuroscience. She will enter her senior year this fall. In the midst of pursuing such a bright future, Kaitlin was diagnosed in fall 2011 with aplastic anemia after a routine check-up showed that she was severely anemic. Even while undergoing tests and feeling extreme fatigue, Kaitlin decided to stick with her full course load and achieved a 4.0 at the end of the semester, an achievement of which she is extremely proud. Raised in Enola, PA, just outside of Harrisburg, Kaitlin is working on her honors thesis and remains President of Young Life Centre County, the local chapter of a nationwide Christian mentorship program for high school students.  After completing her undergraduate coursework, she plans to attend a physician assistant’s program in Pennsylvania and earn her master’s degree.

In Her Own Words

Though this illness has been the hardest thing that has ever come my way in my mere 21 years, it has also allowed me to rise to the challenge and realize my own strength. There have been many blessings that have come from this diagnosis, the greatest of which has been the way my family has come together and been such a strong support system. Though there may be lower lows, I have learned to appreciate the good times that much more. One day I hope to be a strong, healthy, survivor, but until then, I will continue to overcome one day at a time and continue my education as planned.

Abigail Hexamer

Abigail Hexamer

Through it all, Abigail Hexamer says she “knew it was going to be OK.” Maybe it was just her natural optimism or the fact that she was so busy as a high school senior back in 2008 that she didn’t have time to be sick. Although she was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia and had no family members match as a potential bone marrow donor, she was at peace with herself. Thanks to immunosuppressant therapy, she is currently celebrating her three-year anniversary of being in remission. Three must be her magic number as this is her third AA&MDSIF scholarship, having earned Harry Carson Scholarships in 2008 and 2011. Abigail recently graduated from Hiram College with a Bachelor of Arts in business management. The Massillon, Ohio native will take prerequisites at two colleges this fall and then apply for the University of Akron Accelerated Nursing Program in the spring of 2013. Abby is an active volunteer at the hospital where she was treated (Akron Children’s Hospital) and is a survivor counselor for children on what she terms “my floor” during the summer. She says her goal is to one day run the floor she was on so she can “spread hope and make sure the same amazing care is given for years to come.”

In Her Own Words

What I learned to appreciate most though, was my life. For as I walked around the fifth floor of Akron’s Children Hospital, there were children a lot younger than me, who had challenges far bigger than mine. Some of theirs would never be overcome. They wouldn’t get to ride their first bike, have their first kiss, or drive their first car. They wouldn’t get to go to school, go to college, or have a family like I would one day. What those kids did know that most of us take for granted is how important it is to live in the moment. They smiled, they laughed, and they enjoyed living. A mural on a wall on my floor read ‘My strength lies solely in my tenacity.’ It became my new life motto. Not only did it give me direction in my life, but it made me appreciate so many things I took for granted.

Bailey Hildebrand

Bailey Hildebrand

Four years ago, Bailey says she wasn’t sure if she would graduate high school, go to college or “even see the new year.” That was 2008, the year she was diagnosed with moderate to severe aplastic anemia. She had to give up participating on the high school swimming and water polo teams in her hometown of Cottage Grove, Oregon near Eugene, a choice that was difficult for her. Her grades suffered, but she was just trying to get through the experience. It took almost two years for her to go into remission, but by her senior year of high school she achieved a 4.0 GPA for the spring term. Even though she still receives care, today she looks forward to the future. Bailey will enter her sophomore year at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, where both of her parents are alumni. Bailey is working towards a Bachelor in Science in vascular technology because she wishes to go into the medical imaging field. She says it was medical imaging (ultrasound) of her veins and arteries that helped with the early discovery of her aplastic anemia. During her treatment at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, she began to see a role for herself in the medical field. She says, “I knew I wanted to be a part of something that makes such a large contribution and impacts so many people.”

In Her Own Words

Providing me with the opportunity to follow my passion and career choice is something for which I will be eternally grateful. I also cannot express my happiness at being given another chance to move forward from the past and succeed in the future. Life will always throw obstacles that people do not consider a threat until it happens, but having the ability to overcome that obstacle and thrive from it is what I truly believe makes a strong and positive person. I do not think of my disease as an excuse for not being able to complete anything I set my mind to. It may be a stepping stone or a life-changing experience but I will never let it define who I am, or where I came from.

Alexander Jones

Alexander Jones

Alexander enjoys helping people. As trumpet section leader and drill captain for the Patuxent High School Band in his hometown of Lusby, Maryland, he has been lauded for his leadership skills, team spirit and ability to teach others. He also enjoys working with children as part of AWANA clubs, a worldwide Christian youth organization at his local church. An outstanding student, Alex will attend Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as a freshman this fall. In 1997, when he was three years old, he was treated for aplastic anemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant. Challenged with a language learning disability, Alex’s doctors think the disability may have been related to his disease. Throughout his school career, Alex’s parents have worked with his teachers helping him overcome it. Alex, who thinks he’d like to go to dental school after college and become an oral surgeon, says “I owe it to my parents for helping me become a normal, independent human being.”

In His Own Words

The subjects I find the most interesting in school are the sciences, especially biology. I find it intriguing to learn about how things work and how they can be used to benefit people. I plan on majoring in the field of biology in college, not only to learn more about life on this planet, but I also want to find out how I can use that knowledge to help other people in need, whether or not I get into the medical field.

Christian LaChance

Christian LaChance

Christian had a long climb back after he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in August 2006, at age 12. He spent 92 days in the hospital undergoing bone marrow biopsies, blood and platelet transfusions, and receiving antibiotics and immunosuppressive medications. The Dumfries, Virginia native missed his entire seventh grade school year. However, he was very determined to keep pace, and while he was homebound, but still under treatment, managed to complete that school year’s worth of work in five months. By the time he reached high school, he was healthy, but was not allowed to participate in physical activity until his junior year. Since it was too late to join most high school sports, Christian took up a sport of his own. Perhaps to symbolize his own ascendency, Christian took up rock climbing. He says he chose the sport to “prove to myself and others that I could do things they said I couldn’t do or wouldn’t be able to do for a long time.” To Christian, the sport represents persistence and determination. This fall, Christian will combine those qualities along with the academic excellence he has demonstrated throughout. He will attend Virginia Tech as a freshman majoring in biology/chemistry, continuing his path towards a career in medicine.

In His Own Words

Being surrounded by doctors, nurses, and other patients just like me and seeing all these people care about making me better, inspired me to want to study medicine so that in the future, I will be able to give back and help people in their time of need. I have already taken the first steps towards this path by being the only one in my high school to enroll in both AP Biology and AP Chemistry. I did this to help prepare me for a pre-med major in college. After college, I intend to pursue my medical education with the Navy. It has been a goal I’ve had since I was a small child - being in the Navy like my dad. I know my goals will require a lot of hard work on my part and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I worked hard, with the help of others, to overcome aplastic anemia. I’m not going to waste the chance I’ve been given.

Catherine MacLean

Catherine MacLean

Top student, counselor at a summer camp that serves children and families coping with cancer, and AAMDSIF volunteer are just a few of Catherine’s qualifications. Diagnosed with aplastic anemia at age four in 1996, the South Hamilton, Massachusetts native has overcome her disease and used her experiences to help other people. This fall, Catherine, who received a bone marrow transplant in 2001, will start her junior year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut majoring in biology and science in society. She hopes to work in the medical field. At school, she is an active volunteer with the Wesleyan Students for Disability Rights organization. She is a familiar face to AA&MDSIF staff, as she organized a craft fair that has run for twelve years, and she has also volunteered at conferences and performed advocacy work. This is Catherine’s second scholarship through AA&MDSIF.

In Her Own Words

I can’t possibly imagine who or where I would be if I had not had aplastic anemia. And in some senses, I don’t want to try. I value my experiences. But that is not to say it has been easy. I have scars, physical and emotional, from my experience. But, the gift my life experience has given me is a deep sense that it is worth it. If I have to deal with the bad in order to get all the good, I will take that trade-off. I will acknowledge both the good and bad aspects of my life, but focus on the good. I will choose to make meaning out of my experience by using them as catalysts to help others. I hope to combine my knowledge of science and social science to improve medical treatment for patients like me. I am now a 20-year-old, 16-year survivor of aplastic anemia. My message is that bone marrow failure is not the end-all, be-all of your life. There is a way forward that is positive, even if it isn’t always easy.

Tim McCarthy

Tim McCarthy

"Playing trumpet is what I love and will do for the rest of my life,” says Tim. He is now majoring in Music Performance at Saint Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota and wants to play for a professional orchestra. Entering his junior year, Tim is well on his way to achieving his dreams. He is the lead trumpet in the St. Olaf Jazz Band, which won an award as the top undergraduate jazz ensemble in the U.S. last year. This summer, he has been selected to come to Washington, D.C. and participate in the National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Institute during the month of July. He will also be traveling to China to tour with the St. Olaf’s Orchestra. Tim was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in 2005 when he was in seventh grade. He had little understanding of his disease, but was told by his parents he had to quit playing sports, his second love, until they figured out what to do. His blood counts were so low, he was told he would need a bone marrow transplant if they became worse. Before undergoing any drastic treatments, Tim’s parents sent him to his grandparents in Colorado, hoping that a change to a high-altitude environment would help. After four extended trips to Colorado in one year, his counts gradually improved and remarkably, Tim was able to resume a normal life.

In His Own Words

It has been seven years since I was diagnosed, and I am nearly in the normal range with all my counts. Thankfully I can play sports without fear of internal bleeding. I do not tell many people about what I have gone through. I don’t want pity, or for people to treat me differently. I had entered a new culture, one of illness and serious medical conditions. At the hospital, I saw many children in worse shape than I was, and this changed the way I treat life. I played football for three years, as well as rugby for the past four years, sports I had never considered trying before I got sick. I appreciate the fact that I can play those sports and want to take advantage of it while I can. Athletes play for various reasons, but for me, it is a privilege and blessing to be able to play sports, to have the energy to go to school, and to do all the activities I enjoy.

Samantha Miller

Samantha Miller

Samantha always thought she wanted to be a nurse until she received treatment from Theresa, a physician assistant at The National Institutes of Health (NIH) who she calls her “role model and mentor.” Now that she says she has become “enamored” with the duties of a physician assistant, she hopes to become one herself. This fall, Samantha will pursue a dual degree in Physician Assistant Studies after a two-year leave of absence from college due to her health. Samantha will be working towards obtaining her BS in Health Sciences from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and and will then pursue her MS from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. It will be a five-year program. Originally diagnosed with aplastic anemia in October 2007, Samantha achieved remission but had a subsequent relapse in 2009. Samantha was treated with immunosuppressive treatments that were only partially successful. Because a match could not be found, a bone marrow transplant was not available to her, so in March 2011 she underwent a cord blood transplant at NIH, receiving blood from two donors: a baby’s cord blood and a half-matched donor, her father. An outstanding high school student, the Sicklerville, New Jersey native graduated with honors despite missing a lot of time due to her illness. Samantha is once again trying to live out her life’s dreams.

In Her Own Words

Having to miss a lot of my high school career and then taking a medical leave of absence from college, my primary goal is to finish school without any additional interruptions and earn my degree. In school, I plan to diligently study and become as knowledgeable about medicine as possible. Achieving my goals for school will ultimately lead to my career goal, which is to give back to future patients with the same care, concern, and dedication that I once received during my illness.

Christopher Nein

Christopher Nein

Christopher Nein has always wanted to be a doctor and this fall he is taking a significant step towards that goal as he will attend Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia. Diagnosed with aplastic anemia at age two, Chris received a bone marrow transplant from his brother that saved his life. He is a young man with big dreams. After going on a mission trip to Haiti, Chris says he decided that he would someday like to open a clinic there and dedicate his life to “bringing medical care to the poorest people living in the worst conditions on our side of the Earth.” This is Chris’s second AA&MDSIF scholarship, qualifying as a Harry Carson Scholar last year. The Old Dominion University graduate sees his aplastic anemia diagnosis as a blessing that has made him more compassionate and will lead him to be a great doctor.

In His Own Words

From an open letter he wrote to those fighting bone marrow failure disease

If your personality is anything like mine, you will develop big dreams and goals, and you will run head-first trying to attain them. Do not allow this diagnosis and fight to stifle your dreams. Instead, continue your fight now with an eye towards the future. When you are well again, use this time in your life as fuel and inspiration to pursue your wildest dreams. I will continue to pray for whomever reads this letter, as well as for all patients who are fighting blood disorders. Just promise me that you will fight hard to overcome this disease and then continue to fight for the rest of your life to see your aspirations become reality.

Kylene Ogborn

Kylene Ogborn

This is Kylene’s second consecutive AA&MDSIF scholarship. It’s difficult enough to overcome one life-threatening disease. Imagine fighting through two of them. Kylene was first diagnosed with aplastic anemia in February 2009 when she was a junior in high school near her hometown of Island Lake, Illinois. After undergoing ATG immunosuppressive therapy, her blood counts started to rise and her recovery seemed assured until September of that year when she came down with a strep infection which led to acute renal failure. She again survived, but then received another devastating diagnosis. She was told she had PNH. The turning point occurred three months later when she was started on the medicine Eculizumab (Soliris®) which again brought her blood counts close to normal and allowed her to think about resuming her life. After all that she went through, Kylene says she decided that she wanted to “help others the way that I was helped” so she is pursuing a degree in nursing, specializing in hematology/oncology. This fall, she will start her junior year at Elmhurst College in Illinois.

In Her Own Words

Over that first year I was ill, I learned so much about myself and the world. I realized that I have been given a blessed life and I have everything going for me despite my health. Additionally, I finally truly understood that things could always be worse and that we need to be thankful and appreciative of what we do have. However, one of the most touching things I learned is that there are people out in the world who do not know you but care about you and want to help you. Since then, I always say that I never wish the illnesses onto anyone, but I wish that everyone would have the experience that leads them to the same realization. 

Gina Seith

Gina Seith

San Jose native Gina Seith is heavily influenced by the realities of the world she sees around her, but equally influenced by things she can’t see, but can only imagine. When she begins college as a freshman at the University of San Diego this fall, Gina will start to determine whether she wants to pursue a degree in political science or physics. Her interest in political science emanates from what she describes as a “genuine concern for people and their well-being” and the experiences she’s had being an aplastic anemia survivor and meeting others who are ill. Her interest in physics stems from a curiosity about things that are mysteries of the universe and things that can’t be answered, including how she became ill with a rare disease. Gina was originally diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia in 2003 when she was eight years old. While never cured, her immunosuppressive treatments kept the disease at bay until her sophomore year of high school when her platelet counts dropped rapidly. Up to that time in 2010, she had been a good student, volunteer for the biannual school blood drive and a member of the swim team. However, she soon became very ill which caused her to miss a lot of school, drop some of her activities and receive additional treatments. Despite this major setback, Gina persevered and finished her high school academic career with a 3.4 GPA which included coursework in Honors English.

In Her Own Words

Lucky for me, I had supportive teachers and friends to help keep me up to date on assignments and notes; family to encourage me to continue working hard; and all of them to cheer me up and distract me from the downsides of my situation. So by the end of the school year, after a potential threat of not finishing my sophomore year on time, I finished with a GPA that kept me eligible for a University of California school, had worked the blood drive with approval from my teachers, received more than a passing grade on my sophomore project, and began to see to see an increase in my counts.

Lydia Smith

Lydia Smith

Lydia will begin her senior year at Vanderbilt University this fall. She is pursuing a degree in engineering science but plans to apply to law school soon after graduating in 2013. Although engineering and law appear to be unrelated disciplines, Lydia sees it differently. She believes that both lawyers and engineers utilize similar analytical and technical skills. While her preference is to practice public interest law in the area of women’s rights, she is also interested in patent law. A year ago, talk of future plans was just a dream for Lydia. In February 2011, Lydia had to withdraw from Vanderbilt due to her aplastic anemia diagnosis. She went through ATG treatment and chemotherapy close to her Pennsauken, N.J. home, but has now come out the other side, both physically and emotionally. Lydia says she was able to return to Vanderbilt for the fall 2011 semester with a new determination to “live like I was dying”. Lydia lost weight, joined a sorority and significantly raised her grade point average. She says that acceptance of her disease was the final stage of a personal transformation. She does not let her disease define her. It is only a small part of who she is.

In Her Own Words

The last thing I remember is walking into my house, grabbing my Snuggie, and lying down on the gray couch in my living room. I named my couch, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, or Melfi for short. I borrowed the name from Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist from the greatest show of all time, The Sopranos (Hey, what can I say, I’m from New Jersey). It was on good ole’ Melfi where I did most of my self-discovery. I would cry for days wondering why this happened to me when I lived most of life trying to be a good person. Things became worse when the only answer I could turn up was that I had simply fallen through the cracks. Then, one day I changed my outlook. Instead of the forgotten, I looked at myself as the chosen. It was me because I could endure it while it may have proven to be too much for someone else. We all have our struggles, some that I wouldn’t even exchange for my own. Living with aplastic anemia is my challenge to face, but even more so my victory to be had. I felt more triumph after my chemotherapy, then I ever had before I got sick. I have a greater opinion of myself today because I persevered.

UPDATE: I am currently a senior at Vanderbilt University studying Engineering Science and Project Management. In addition to serving as Vice President of my sorority, I am a member of the Vanderbilt Programming Board. I have cherished every second of my time here in Nashville because I love working hard, learning innovative techniques, and meeting new people. I feel healthier then ever, and will walk across that stage in May due to the work of my family/friends, my doctors, and God. I am currently looking for a job as an engineering analyst or project manager and am open to relocating anywhere in the world. I just really want experience.

Sage Thomas

Sage Thomas

Sage Thomas is very thankful for the opportunity to attend college, her second AA&MDSIF scholarship and most of all, for life. When she was ten years old, she was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia and told there was little chance of finding a match for a bone marrow transplant. She was soon hospitalized at Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee, more than 50 miles from her Plymouth, Wisconsin home, and treated with ATG and other immunosuppressive treatments. Today, while she says she struggles to find “that balance between schoolwork, work, social activities and staying healthy”, she is a freshman at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI where she is studying communications. In April of this year, she helped run a bone marrow drive at her college and plans to run another one in her own community this summer. She also volunteers at Children’s Hospital where she was treated and she would love to work for them someday.

In Her Own Words

The disease has taught me many things. I have had to learn to be patient, positive, and well-organized. I have found the importance of having a strong faith and a supportive network of family and friends to be invaluable. I have a deeper understanding of other’s feelings and try my best to help others whenever I can. I believe that I can never take for granted that I have been blessed to be a survivor and need to be the best person I can be.