Dreams inspired by my sister’s struggles

By Eliana Lanfranco
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Every night, I sit down with my nine-year-old sister at the dining table and help her with her school work. I give her all of my attention and patience, and I make sure that she does her best on all of her assignments. Because she has trouble focusing, I must stay with her from start to finish, which means that I must put my own school work aside. As a result, I usually finish all of my assignments well past midnight.

It isn’t just that I have to help my sister with her homework. I also have to help her deal with the symptoms of her hyperthyroidism, which she was diagnosed with two years ago. This condition makes the thyroid glands produce an excess of thyroxine, causing my sister to have an accelerated metabolism, hot flashes and difficulty sleeping. Often, I must stay awake with her for hours until she falls asleep.

This responsibility falls to me because my mother works until late at night and does not speak English. When I was younger, I resented my mom for leaving this to me: None of my friends had to be like a substitute mother for their siblings, and I envied their freedom and careless manner. But as I grew older, I started to feel ashamed of those feelings. I realized that my mother was working all day so she could pay the bills and everyday expenses.

I’ve not only come to appreciate my mother’s hard work, but I’ve realized how important my help has been. When I was a child, my mother worked long hours and my grandmother took care of me. However, my grandmother does not know how to read, and could not help me with my school work. Because I know how difficult it was to have no one who could help me with my assignments, I want to be the person my sister can turn to for help.

Although my sister’s medical condition is a sad thing, I am glad that she was diagnosed in the United States and not in the Dominican Republic, where we lived until she was a year and a half. The insurance there would have only covered some of the costs, and we would have been unable to pay for her constant visits to the doctor or her expensive thyroid medication. In addition, the hospitals near my town often lacked the tools needed to examine the health of patients.

Both the lack of resources for medical treatment in the Dominican Republic and my commitment to help people like my sister have helped to spark my interest in the medical field. In high school, I’ve joined MedAchieve and Gateway (two programs for students who want to learn about medicine) and Project Rousseau (a college prep program). Once in college, I plan to major in anthropology, and take the required classes for medical school. I believe that by learning about different cultures, customs and beliefs, I will be more successful in supplying medical treatment to people who do not trust western medical methods. Understanding other cultures and their customs will help me to someday found an institution that can offer low-cost medical treatment in underdeveloped countries.

But for right now, my main focus is still on helping my sister. Even though I used to be angry about the responsibilities that had been forced upon me, I’ve now embraced the role that I play in my sister’s life. I hope that the nights I have spent with her at the dining table have given her the academic support and guidance that I lacked as a child.

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