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Humans of Harker: Translating struggle into hope

Ally Wang finds her purpose through facing adversity

%E2%80%9CMy+brother%E2%80%99s+thing+happened+to+him+and+it+affected+my+life%2C+but+when+my+alopecia+happened%2C+there+was+just+something+different+about+having+it+happen+to+me.+There%E2%80%99s+so+much+that+needs+to+be+done+in+the+medical+field.+We%E2%80%99ve+barely+scratched+the+surface+of+what+medicine+can+do.+It+can+help+so+many+people.+Everyone+in+my+family+could+be+helped+by+something+in+this+field%2C%E2%80%9D+Ally+Wang+%2812%29+said.+
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Humans of Harker: Translating struggle into hope

“My brother’s thing happened to him and it affected my life, but when my alopecia happened, there was just something different about having it happen to me. There’s so much that needs to be done in the medical field. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what medicine can do. It can help so many people. Everyone in my family could be helped by something in this field,” Ally Wang (12) said.

“My brother’s thing happened to him and it affected my life, but when my alopecia happened, there was just something different about having it happen to me. There’s so much that needs to be done in the medical field. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what medicine can do. It can help so many people. Everyone in my family could be helped by something in this field,” Ally Wang (12) said.

Anoushka Buch

“My brother’s thing happened to him and it affected my life, but when my alopecia happened, there was just something different about having it happen to me. There’s so much that needs to be done in the medical field. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what medicine can do. It can help so many people. Everyone in my family could be helped by something in this field,” Ally Wang (12) said.

Anoushka Buch

Anoushka Buch

“My brother’s thing happened to him and it affected my life, but when my alopecia happened, there was just something different about having it happen to me. There’s so much that needs to be done in the medical field. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what medicine can do. It can help so many people. Everyone in my family could be helped by something in this field,” Ally Wang (12) said.

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What happens when you feel like someone you’re not? Though it isn’t always intentional, there are often people who feel as if they are constantly hiding, simply because they never got the chance to establish themselves. Complex experiences and feelings often lead people to conceal their true selves for fear of letting go of too many emotions.

On the surface, Ally Wang (12) is calm, quiet and composed. She wears gentle colors: a cream sweater and a grey head scarf, accentuated by the light gold chain around her neck. Each word she speaks is thought-out and measured, said quietly in a lilting, softened voice. Her demeanor reveals nothing about her struggles or passions, yet Ally’s family, unknown to most of her peers, is an important part of her daily life: it determines her schedule, actions and has even influenced her dreams and goals.

When Ally was in eighth grade, her brother, Derrick, now 19, became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. An accident during Derrick’s sophomore year resulted in his injury and paralyzation. Though Derrick’s injury is well-known to the teachers who knew him nearly four years ago, very few of Ally’s current classmates are aware of his injury, as she refrains from bringing it up in conversation due to the emotion behind the incident.

“I was talking to some of my advisees the other day, and they didn’t even know I had a sibling,” she said. “I can’t really talk about him without talking about his medical issue, and that’s not really something you want to be defined by.”

After three years of keeping quiet about her brother’s injury, in spite of the sadness and frustration Ally feels when speaking about her brother, talking about the accident is a catharsis for Ally: she describes his injury and his role in her life with a careful steadiness that mostly hides the little fluctuations of emotion in her voice.

“I can’t really sleep; if there’s a loud sound that comes, I panic and run to his room,” she said. “He can’t move below his neck, and that requires a lot effort, time and dedication from my parents and our whole family.”

Derrick’s medical situation has affected all aspects of her life: Ally’s become more drawn-in and has had to relinquish her goals of Olympic skating; yet she has learned to be present for her brother emotionally and physically while simultaneously adapting, growing and cultivating her own ambitions. Through her troubles, she discovered that skating with her team at San Francisco Ice Theatre was a strong pillar for her to lean upon and open up to during difficult times.

“I’ve known my skating team for so long, and we’ve seen each other go through some really hard things and we’ve always been there for each other,” Ally said. “We really get to see who we are, each aspect of everyone’s life.”

Traveling for competitions with her skating team are opportunities for Ally to escape and be herself. She feels most comfortable surrounded by the experienced older girls on the team who are able to listen, share and give advice. While representing the USA on a trip for the Nations’ Cup, Ally found that she was able to bond with her team in new ways.

“We failed the competition miserably, but we stayed up that night talking until, like, five in the morning,” Ally said. “You get to talk about really anything: things at school that bother you, drama that they’re not really involved in.”

Maya Schwartz, one of Ally’s skating teammates, has known Ally since Maya joined the team. Skating alongside Ally has helped Maya appreciate her friend’s charisma and dedication, and Maya saw the effects of Derrick’s injury on Ally firsthand.

“Ally is by far one of the kindest and most driven people I know, and I know that I can rely on her for anything because she’s always looking out for the people in her life,” Maya said. “Ally’s brother’s injury has taught her to appreciate what’s often taken for granted.”

Maya has noticed that the lessons that Ally learned through Derrick’s experience have transferred to interactions with her peers.

“Maintaining this mindset has positively impacted those around her as well,” Maya said. “As a team, we tend to focus on the result of the competition. Ally often reminds us that’s it’s about a lot more than that; it’s about doing something that we love with the people that we care about.”

Rather than feeling frustrated with the accommodations and sacrifices they would need to make, Ally took her responsibilities in stride and used them as an opportunity to grow while exploring her changing relationship with Derrick.

“It’s definitely made me more aware of disabilities and more accepting of of the situation at hand,” Ally said. “Like all siblings, we seesaw between hate, sympathy and love. Our roles reversed, because he’s older and he was always expected to help me with a lot of things, but now I’m the one who helps him.”

Helping her brother on a daily basis and seeing firsthand the impact his injury had on him allowed Ally to realize what she wants to pursue in college.

“I’ve always liked the sciences a little more,” she said. “But after my brother’s injury, I realized how much we needed to do.”

Ally found that she and her family were impacted hugely by the kinds of uncontrollable misfortunes that rarely strike the same family three times. Ally was diagnosed with alopecia in her sophomore year, causing her hair to begin gradually falling out the summer before her junior year, an uncontrollable and frustrating process. Her father’s discovery of a cell tumor in his knee, along with other medical struggles her family faced, led Ally to cultivate an interest in biomedical engineering in order to close the gaps she sensed in the medical field.

“My brother’s [situation] affected my life, but when my alopecia happened, there was just something different about having it happen to me,” Ally said. “There’s so much that needs to be done in the medical field. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what medicine can do. It can help so many people. Everyone in my family could be helped by something in this field.”

After she identified her love for the sciences in middle school and decided she wanted to pursue biomedical engineering, Ally has devoted hours to researching her medical condition and ways to control or halt it. She has been developing a website with information about alopecia, though it is unfinished and still in the works.

“No one knows what’s going on, so I’ve been doing all the research I can to find out what affects what. I even created my own website,” Ally said. “I want other people to know, too, because the sites that I’ve gone on in order to find this information are insane. I have to search every few words up because I don’t know what they are. I want other people with the same issues to know about it. I want to make it something really personal yet applicable to anyone who reads it.”

The drive and dedication Ally displayed in her research has not gone unnoticed by those around her.

“She approaches problems with a quiet, can-do attitude, with soft determination,” King said. “That will serve her well in biomedical engineering.”

Though aware that very few of her classmates know about Derrick, his importance in her life and his impact upon her perspectives and goals in life, Ally confessed that she does want those around her to know and realize his role and impact upon her.

“It’s something I don’t like to talk about, because I get emotional, but it’s a part of who I am,” she said.

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Humans of Harker: Translating struggle into hope