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How a Decade of Personal Health Challenges and Campus Activism Shaped My Medical Ambitions

Written by Jackson Ayers

I began my journey as a patient at Connecticut Children’s in the summer of 2012, after experiencing significant and frequent bouts of abdominal pain during the night. As an 11-year-old, I was understandably scared at the current situation, as were my parents, and we looked to the Gastroenterology Department at Connecticut Children’s in the hopes of solving my abdominal mystery. I met with Dr. Wael Sayej for the first time and started a journey of vigorous trial and error for multiple years, before a visit to the emergency room uncovered a medication that mitigated my symptoms to a tolerable degree in 2017. I continued my visits to Connecticut Children’s for six years, all the while receiving some of the most compassionate support I could have asked for. My quality of life, and the fear I felt toward a mysterious ailment that caused countless sleepless nights, was truly saved by those at Connecticut Children’s.

Jackson Ayer

Why I Got Involved with HuskyTHON

I was first drawn to HuskyTHON as a patient, seeing the plaques and posters on the colorful walls of Connecticut Children’s as I walked to my appointments. Unfortunately, starting college in 2020 during COVID prevented my participation as I was not in an organization that was connected to HuskyTHON, nor had I heard of it until Night Of. (Night Of is the actual 18-hour dance marathon, the culmination of an entire year of fundraising by UConn students.) My sophomore year, I was a dancer for my fraternity’s HuskyTHON team, and after experiencing my first Night Of, decided to increase my involvement my junior year as a Hospital Relations Captain and a Morale Captain. But it wasn’t enough.

Jackson with

For my senior year, I was determined to join the Management Team as a Co-Director of Hospital Relations. As a former Hospital Relations Captain, I had insight into the work and magic that the Hospital Relations position was able to perform in terms of interacting with the Miracle Kiddos and their families, and ensuring that the entire UConn student body understood why we all dance for a future without childhood illness. I was hooked, and I cannot be more enthusiastic to serve as a Co-Director of Hospital Relations for HuskyTHON 2024, particularly for the 25th anniversary. The longevity and growth that we have seen and achieved with HuskyTHON over a quarter of a century is proof of the passion that UConn students have for raising funds and awareness for Connecticut Children’s. I could not be more proud to be a part of such a special milestone.

Jackson Ayer HuskyTHON Committee

My Favorite HuskyTHON Memory

While it might sound like the cliché answer, my favorite memory of HuskyTHON was the Circle of Hope ceremony for HuskyTHON 2023, where all participants form an enormous circle, and patients from the hospital cut the wristband worn by each student, symbolically releasing us from our year-long commitment, even as the kids continue their lives as patients. At that point, I had not stayed for the entire duration of Night Of before, nor worked so hard leading up to the 18-hour dance marathon that year. As hands were held and hospital bands cut, I felt a special bond with everyone in the room, united towards a greater purpose, dedicated towards advancement in the care of sick children everywhere. As the Field House was quiet with sounds of tears and whispers of friends comforting one another in the emotional affair, I felt at home in an organization for the first time at UConn. After that, I knew HuskyTHON would be an integral part of my life forever, and I couldn’t wait to embark on the journey of HuskyTHON 2024 and the memories that it would bring.

Jackson with HuskyTHON dancers

Inspired to Pursue a Career in Medicine

Today, I am a clinical research assistant in Connecticut Children’s Department of Neurosurgery, working towards the publication of a paper related to social determinants that affect the interval from symptom onset to diagnosis within the pediatric patient population that suffers from neurological tumors. I work closely with Dr. David Hersh on the project, with the hope of publication submission in the near future! I am in the process of starting my medical school application for the 2025 matriculant cycle, with the hope of becoming a pediatric surgeon some day. Prior to being a patient and researcher, and through many shadowing experiences at Connecticut Children’s, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but working with children had yet to cross my mind. After shadowing Dr. Jonathan Martin during my freshman year, I knew I wanted to work in pediatrics.

Through my work with HuskyTHON and my experience being a pediatric patient, I have grown to understand the impact that can be had on not just a life, but a lifetime, when working with children. I can’t wait for my future adventures in medicine and working each and every day to create a world safe and accessible to every child who needs help.

Jackson Ayers is a senior at the University of Connecticut, studying Physiology and Neurobiology in the Honors Program.

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