For some patients, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is more than just the place they visited for check-ups, MRI’s, and medical tests: It’s the spark of inspiration that encouraged them to study medicine, science, or research and kick-start a career in healthcare. As these students prepare to start college and secure financial aid this year, the Demyelinating Disease team in the division of Neurology at CHOP helped them submit applications to the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society’s scholarship program and other organizations that offer support for scholars with demyelinating diseases.
“As a group, our MS team of physicians, nurses, social workers, and research staff try to support our patients medically while also trying to enable them to understand their diagnosis and empower them to continue to achieve their life goals,” said Sonia Narula, MD, a pediatric neurologist at CHOP. “Hopefully, a scholarship to a school of their choosing will help them along!”
Pediatric MS is a demyelinating disease in which the layer of myelin that protects the brain and spinal cord is damaged, thus disturbing the brain’s communication with the body and causing various problems from a patient’s vision down to their ability to walk. Children with MS experience much of the same symptoms as adults, including cognitive complications, weakness, and spasticity, but, unlike adults, they tend to have more relapses and seizures. The Pediatric MS Clinic at CHOP currently enlists patients in research studies to learn more about how demyelination affects children and teens.
Along with Krystle Karoscik, a former CHOP project manager in the division of Neurology, Dr. Narula wrote letters of support for several patients including one, Idalis Morales. Morales was stirred to study biochemistry because of her participation in research studies at CHOP’s Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Clinic and her experiences being treated by physicians at CHOP.
“Looking at all the MRI’s that I take, and the steps that [my doctors] take just to find cures, or medicine, and anything that can help, kind of inspired me,” Morales said.
Morales already knows her dream job: a clinical research coordinator (she likes to work behind the scenes but also take a little bit of charge), and she has already been accepted to the college of her choice: La Salle University. Morales applied for the MS Society’s scholarship program in January and awaits the status of her application, keeping busy with the Ambassador Leadership Club at her school and trips to the movies.
“I think the most exciting thing about college is actually experiencing something new and learning to be on my own,” Morales said. “Also, learning more than I do in high school. I feel like in college I’ll be able to learn more and can experience more since it’s basically all science-based.”
For the neurology team at CHOP, jumping in to offer advice to Morales and others felt only natural.
“I have known Idalis for quite some time and have seen how she has matured over the years and learned how to manage a chronic illness while also dealing with the typical stresses of high school,” Dr. Narula explained. “She had previously expressed her interest in the sciences to me, and I was happy to help facilitate anything that would help her to reach her educational goals moving forward.”
Karoscik added that Morales and another patient’s active participation in the MS clinic helped her truly connect with the girls and support their ambitions by providing mentorship about college coursework and research at CHOP.
“I was fortunate to get to know both families through our MS research program,” Karoscik said. “The girls were very much involved in our studies and showed a great deal of interest to continue their research experience in their undergraduate careers.”
The MS Society scholarship offers a limited number of aid packages, and applicants like Morales will hear back about their submissions later this month. In 2016, the organization awarded more than $1 million to 815 scholars, with the belief that, “MS shouldn’t stand in the way of an education.
We wish the best of luck to all applicants, and we’re excited that CHOP has inspired a new crop of future workers in healthcare. As for other students looking to take advantage of scholarships, Morales has this advice: “Just apply to as many as you want, and don’t be scared. The worst they can do is not give it to you!”