Posted on 27 February 2017
As student-athletes, we have the responsibility of giving back to the community that has supported us and shaped us into the people we have become. Accordingly, through the Maryland Women’s Basketball program, I have participated in many community service projects. Each of these activities reminds me of the importance of sharing my time and talents with others in the community and the positive impact that I alone can make on the lives of others. I quickly learned through this experience that every person’s unique perspective is their own reality and you must treat them accordingly.
While each experience and encounter taught me valuable lessons, none had a profound effect on me until I met the Barrett family. During my freshman year at Maryland (2014), our team was introduced to an organization called Team IMPACT. This group pairs young children that have medical complications with local athletic teams. A select few team members were chosen to be on the “Leadership Team” to discuss the idea of participating in Team Impact. I was fortunate enough to be part of the Leadership team and ultimately we decided that Team IMPACT was an opportunity we could not miss. In July 2015, we were blessed with Ashlyn as our new teammate. Ashlyn was five years old and had a slew of undiagnosed medical problems. Her medical problems never dampen her spirit; she is so full of life. Everyday she attacks life and seeks all it has to offer without any hesitation. Admittedly, we as student-athletes, can get wrapped up in our everyday life stresses, but Ashlyn would stop me in my tracks. I often found myself saying, if she can persevere, I can too. She became an inspiration to our entire team.
When I first met Ashlyn, she appeared to be a typical five year old full of energy chasing us all over the court and never missing a beat. Little did I know, Ashlyn had already been diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT), Muscular Dystrophy (MD), Pulmonary Valve Stenosis (PVS), and Asthma. The most recent diagnosis is Gastroparesis. As a pre-med student, I am exposed to a significant amount of medical jargon, yet I had never heard of Ashlyn’s newest ailment. Upon further investigation, I found that Gastroparesis affects only 4% of the United States population and that there is no cure at this time. In its simplest of terms, Gastroparesis is the paralysis of stomach muscles that aid in digestion. Accordingly, this causes food to get stuck within the digestive track and the only way out is via vomiting. Clearly, Ashlyn is not getting proper nutrients to fuel her body. Ashlyn is now seven years old and requires a wheelchair for traveling longer distances and she wears leg braces to try and help stabilize her and to reduce the pain in her legs because of her muscular dystrophy. Through all of this, Ashlyn’s spirit hasn’t been dampened. She still finds energy to entertain us with her singing and dancing.
I am hoping to take this opportunity that YXU has provided to raise awareness towards Gastroparesis and support for those who are battling it every single day. Ashlyn is my connection to the sickness and I hope to shine a light on Gastroparesis so that a cure can be found and people like Ashlyn can have just a little bit better of a life. After all, “we can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”