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Spring 2021 Scholarship Winner: Noah Bongiovanni

Brad Micklin- Scholarship winner

My name is Noah Bongiovanni, I’m a 21-year old from Erie, Pennsylvania, and this year, I had my life turned upside down. When the pandemic hit, faced with no income due to the loss of both my jobs, I was forced to start working as a driver for a food delivery service. One of my biggest strengths is that I’m an incredibly hard worker; given the new circumstances, I decided to stay positive, and I threw myself into the new position with enthusiasm and hustle. What I didn’t realize at the time was that every hour I spent in my car delivering food was slowly destroying my immune system. Due to a mechanical problem, my A/C system had become the home of a large colony of toxic mold. As I drove for work each day, the mold silently infiltrated my lungs, stomach, and nose. The day after my twenty-first birthday, it reached poisonous levels within my body. My health immediately down-spiraled. I lost a serious amount of weight, I could not eat or sleep, and my heart would race for days on end. My vision went blurry, my ears developed a constant ringing, and my hands and feet were numb daily. I feared the worst—did I have COVID? Was I dying? None of the doctors could help me, because all my blood tests came back normal. They assumed I was having a psychotic breakdown and told me I just needed to “cheer up.” One went so far as to say, “Even my heart races on the golf course!” I recognized that an inability to see problems clearly was too prevalent among doctors who weren’t digging deep enough to find the answers.

I felt alone, misunderstood, and helpless. I tried to resume school in August and failed miserably. I was taken to the hospital during the first week of class, and by the third week, my attendance was so poor due to relentless exhaustion that I had to withdraw. I watched my plans fall to pieces; all I could think about was my friends walking across the graduation stage without me, as I would now be forced to stay behind. Friends stopped calling to check on me as their schedules filled, and I became severely depressed. Just as I felt ready to give up, I found a doctor who understood my symptoms. She immediately diagnosed me with mold poisoning. It’s a chronic but treatable condition, and the medication she has prescribed is returning me to good health, day by day. I’m currently studying some courses on my own, and I’m still on track to graduate with my best friends.

I have lost so much in the past four months, but what I’ve gained is invaluable: perspective. As an aspiring physician, it has been eye-opening to understand what it is like to be chronically ill. Knowing what daily suffering is like will help me to treat my patients with proper care, understanding, and compassion. Furthermore, I have so much respect for the gift of education. I’ve always worked hard, but it is so easy to take blessings for granted when they become a part of daily life. Understanding what it feels like to have the chance to learn ripped out of my grasp will allow me to appreciate every single day of my education going forward. Finally, I’ve learned that no change in plans means the end of opportunities. This series of events taught me that perhaps my greatest weakness was that I’m quick to give up hope when all seems lost. This was clearly a mistake: with the right help and the right mindset, I’m getting back on my feet in no time, and I still have plenty of avenues to reach my dreams. In my time away, I’ve been able to tutor students at school remotely, start working with a startup business for fellow musicians, take care of my sick mother, compose at the piano, learn to play the drums, and prioritize my health. I will come away from this experience stronger and more driven than ever. I am not where I imagined I should be right now, but I am certainly right where I need to be. An academic scholarship would help me reestablish myself in school on solid footing after I beat this disease, so that I can achieve my goal of becoming a doctor and giving my patients the world-class quality care they deserve.

“Thank you so much again for your financial support of my education. It means more than I can express. I’m forever grateful, and I promise you that I will pay it forward someday.” – Noah

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