Recovered Aplastic Anemia Patient Connects with Community Development and Professional Running
I grew up in the Boston area, and it has been almost exactly 20 years since my diagnosis. I was diagnosed as a 6-year-old in January, 1997, at which point I was taken out of school for treatment.
The problem first showed up as what my parents figured was a rash, but were actually petechiae. Upon further testing, my CBC revealed significantly abnormal results; after being referred on and diagnosed with aplastic anemia at Massachusetts General Hospital, there followed a 9 month period of treatment and recovery.
The doctors couldn’t find a match for a bone marrow transplant, so I received the standard treatment of ATG and cyclosporine. After a few months, my blood counts rose and they were close to normal by May. By the fall of 1997, I was back in school, but continued with follow up visits with a pediatric hematologist/oncologist, with whom I’m now still close and who I see annually. Fortunately, I’ve been stable all this time with no relapses.
In the year after graduating from high school, I spent several months in Quito, Ecuador – I hadn’t traveled to that part of the world before and felt a desire to try something different. I’d thought about working in medicine, so I spent most of my time there volunteering at a local children’s hospital where I could develop my Spanish language skills and gain experience in the medical environment. These months would end up influencing my life’s trajectory more than I could have predicted, particularly what became an ongoing involvement with Latin America.
In high school I had found a passion for running through the cross country team, which continued to develop when I headed to Tufts University to study engineering after my time in Quito. One my teammates at Tufts had a connection to a program called STRIVE, a volunteer service program for student athletes, and it just so happened STRIVE was looking to develop a program in Latin America.
This seemed like a perfect opportunity – I already spoke Spanish and had experience in Latin America – so, in 2010 I applied for a job to lead that first program in Peru. The program was the perfect balance for me of giving back to the community and interacting with younger students, while also allowing me time develop as a person and an athlete. Just before the start of my senior year in college, STRIVE’s founder transferred management of the program to me and my partners, so I came on board as an administrator – helping plan our programs and doing outreach – in addition to continuing to lead the trips during the summers.
In addition to my work with STRIVE, I’ve also been continuing to try to run at a high level since graduating from college. I found a good amount of success in my first marathon in 2014 and was lucky enough to get a sponsorship from HOKA ONE ONE to support me professionally. Since then, I’ve been ranked in the top 20 in the US in the marathon, qualified for the Olympic Trials, and represented the US National Team on two occasions, including finishing 2nd at the 2016 50km World Championships.
Since my running career got its start in the mountains of South America, I feel very lucky to continue to be able to train there during parts of the year. I’m still in Peru each summer leading STRIVE programs – (we have a sister program in Kenya, which I’m hoping to visit as well down the road) – and I try to spend a few weeks in Ecuador each year visiting friends and training at high altitude.
For the future, I’m hoping to continue to run professionally as long as I can; my greatest motivation has always been trying to find my own personal limits and I feel like I’m still improving. It’s an exciting journey!
And, I’m hoping to be able to share my history with aplastic anemia as well as a source of inspiration for others who might be suffering from the disease or some other ailment. Especially since this is my 20-year anniversary, my experience has been on my mind a great deal recently and I hope I can give back and help others in the same way that my family and I were helped my so many during my treatment.