Gwyneth’s Story

2021 Educational Enrichment Fund Scholar - University of Minnesota

My family appears quite typical. I have two parents and a brother three years younger than me, and when I’m not at the University of Minnesota, we all live in a Chicago suburban home. However, my brother Mitchell has constantly struggled with epilepsy since he was four, meaning I don’t remember a time that epilepsy hasn’t impacted the lives of my family members and me. From a young age, I learned how to call 911, administer rescue benzodiazepines, and spent many hours in doctors’ offices. My parents constantly research new epilepsy treatments, which has influenced me to question what I read and hear on my own. Independently researching my questions about Mitchell led me to become a critical thinker, one who considers others’ opinions but is consistently striving for a better answer beyond what I’m taught in school. Through my brother’s dependence I have become very independent, and watching his life side-by-side with mine instilled a drive in me to go after whatever I am pursuing to its fullest, whether that’s an organic chemistry exam or a long night at the lab.

Mitchell’s diagnosis led me to study neuroscience in college and toward my career goal: to attend medical school to become a neurologist. One experience in particular sealed this decision. In the summer of 2018, my family and I went to England to celebrate my high school graduation. Before this trip, Mitchell had only experienced tonic-clonic seizures mostly managed by daily medications. However, while my family drove through the countryside on a Saturday, Mitchell developed short, rapid seizures that emergency medication could not pull him out of. The day ended with him being admitted to a rural NHS hospital, in a building without air conditioning or an on-call pediatric neurologist. Without the proper expertise available, Mitchell’s seizures continued for days, and my parents and I stood by his side unable to assist. He was eventually airlifted to another hospital that stabilized him for flying to the US after 12 days, where he would spend three more weeks in the hospital. Although I had already confirmed my spot to study neuroscience by this time, this traumatic event confirmed my decision.

I often think about my inability to help my brother in that hospital. I hope to use this scholarship towards my path to educate myself as a physician and provide novel expertise to families like mine to be an “agent of change.” I never want any family to go through what mine did in England, feeling scared and helpless, exhausted by the constant flow of pediatricians that could only keep Mitchell sleeping to stop the seizures. The strength in my brother and I’s relationship helped me form my own identity as an activist for those with epilepsy and other neurological disorders, giving me the skills to be a caretaker for friends and family struggling through health issues. I can’t wait to enter the field of neurology and pass on the developing treatments I study in neuroscience classes to my patients.


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