"I don't even know how I can ever thank these people! How do you ever thank these people?"
Since 1980, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has enriched the lives of children around the world living with life-threatening medical conditions by granting their greatest wish. For incoming MSU freshman Julia Ruggirello, that opportunity meant the chance to tell the world about something very close to her heart.
Already an activist at her young seventeen years of age, Julia wished to spread awareness about cystic fibrosis to other youth using "Seventeen" magazine. Cystic fibrosis is a chronic, non-contagious, progressive lung disease that affects primarily the respiratory and digestive systems of the body. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the average life expectancy is 38 years. It is a life filled with many vitamins and pills, breathing treatments and daily often four-hour medical regimes, high-calorie diets, and annual hospital visits to treat lung infections.
After initially connecting with the Make-A-Wish Foundation four years ago, Julia and her family were flown to New York this April, and driven by limo to the magazine's headquarters, where Julia participated in a photo shoot and an interview. "I felt like a princess," she remembers.
But Julia's activism doesn't stop there, as she also serves as the Children's Hospital of Michigan's cystic fibrosis teen advocate on their Family Advisory Board. The only teenager among a group of mothers, she offers advice and hope to families whose children have been recently diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, while offering a patient's perspective on hospital renovations and service. Chronic Health Disabilities Specialist Shani Feyen is excited to see how she continues to spread her message of awareness as a new Spartan. "Julia has stood out as positive and effervescent since my first contact with her this past spring; her passion and involvement for awareness surrounding C.F. speaks for itself," she remarked.
Although she requires an extensive daily medical regime, Julia is proactive about managing her disease and living her life. Before her Magna Cum Laude graduation from Warren Woods Tower High School this June, she completed high school with a distinguished and admirable record of community service and involvement, serving on Student Council all four years of high school and as class president for the last three years. Passionate about giving back to others, she also remained an active member of the National Honor Society, and served as the advisor to the Junior Association of the Russell Island Property Owners Association.
Her dedication to her studies and her community did not go unnoticed. Julia was recently awarded the national $5,000 Boomer Esiason Foundation (BEF) Sacks for CF Scholarship, and a four year $1,000 scholarship from the Cystic Fibrosis Scholarship Foundation. This spring, the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities awarded her Anita Giampalmi Cystic Fibrosis Scholarship, named in memory of an MSU alumna whose life symbolized the values of education, hard work in spite of physical challenges, and the pursuit of life goals, at our Awards and Appreciation Reception.
Julia's gratitude for life and every breath is humbling, and her positivity is contagious. "You can't look at life as a burden because there are so many people that have it worse than you do...Be grateful for who you are and what you have," she says. Instead of being preoccupied with things out of her control, Julia is already considering how many lives she can touch by becoming a special education teacher. "If I can give back to someone, if I can make a difference in their life, then I did a good job."
[Author's note: The August issue of "Seventeen" featuring Julia's story will be released in July 2010.]