OUR students

We are dedicating this page to our many students we have met through The Orion Fund. The page is open for comments – if you read something that engages you, please send us a note – whether students or members of TOF, we all appreciate and enjoy hearing from you.

• Paula
• Alan
• Wilson
• Billy


Paula was diagnosed in 2010 with Ewing’s sarcoma, and as a result has become an involved advocate for young adults and medical care. She remarkably went into remission, then on to graduate from UC Berkeley and is now working for the California Legislature for Assemblyman Dr. Richard Pan. Stay tuned for Ben’s video of Paula. The Orion Fund covered medical and living expenses for Paula as a TOF grant in 2010. VIDEO: TOF Film Project

Paula was like any other high-achieving UC Berkeley junior, taking a full course load, serving as vice president of the Cal Democrats, and working two jobs to help her and her mom make ends meet. But when her lower back pain was diagnosed as Ewing’s sarcoma, and Paula’s doctor gave her a 15% survival chance, Paula didn’t allow that devastating prognosis prevent her from taking a proactive approach to dealing with her health, her education, and her finances. Before she began an aggressive chemotherapy regimen, she and her friends made a party out of giving her progressively shorter haircuts, from a mullet to a bowl cut, until they reached her hair’s final destination: a buzz cut. “We had a blast,” Paula said. “Now I know I can rock just about any haircut.” A grant from The Orion Fund helped her manage the debt burden her treatments incurred: “the grant was pretty much a lifesaver,” she said. “It helped me make minimum payments on hospital bills for a while.” Paula knows the hospital bills will be with her for the foreseeable future, but dealing with the financial burden, in her mind, is small change when compared to beating cancer, and Paula’s top priority is building a career while taking care of her health. Her post-college plans are no less lofty than the odds she overcame to beat Ewing’s. She plans to apply her public service–oriented talents to either a position working as a legislative aid to an assemblyman in Sacramento, or getting involved with the re-elect efforts for President Obama. The future is both “terrifying and exciting,” she says, and is optimistic about keeping her cancer in remission as she continues building her career in public service and politics.
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Alan was checking out the swimming pool at UCLA where he had just arrived as a freshman. In fact, classes hadn’t even started yet. Next thing Alan knew, he was recovering at UCLA Medical Center from a brain aneurysm that had ruptured while he was in the pool. The Orion Fund covered medical expenses for Alan as a TOF grant in 2012.

After years of working hard towards his goal, Alan’s dream of attending UCLA came true in the fall of 2011. The dream not only belonged to Alan, but to his family. His parents emigrated from mainland China twenty years ago, and Alan was the first in his family to attend the University of California. The day before classes started, Alan went for a swim at the university recreation center. After a few laps, Alan felt numbness on his right side from his arm to his leg and then blacked out. He was pulled out of the pool by the lifeguard, an off duty ER nurse, and a physician who happened to be nearby. He was rushed by ambulance to UCLA Medical Center where he was diagnosed with a ruptured brain aneurysm. Instead of attending classes as a freshman at UCLA, Alan returned home and entered rehabilitation. He has had to re-learn how to sit up, walk, talk, and write – using his non-dominant left hand and now is working hard on his recovery. The Orion Fund paid Alan’s emergency room bill, incurred before his student medical coverage took effect. It has been a great relief to Alan and his family to be unburdened by this debt. When complimenting Alan on his positive attitude and perseverance as he works towards his goal of returning to UCLA, he simply responded: “I have never faltered to this point, why would I falter now?”
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Many young adults are simply not diagnosed, since we all know that 20 year olds don’t get sick. Wilson’s stress turned out to be a benign brain tumor. Wilson changed his educational focus so that he could apply to medical school. We are delighted to report that Wilson is now a medical student at Rush Medical College at Rush University in Chicago, and will graduate with his M.D. in 2017. The Orion Fund covered medical expenses for Wilson as a TOF grant in 2009.

Wilson’s life took a major turn in fall of 2008, when his mother forced him to go to the emergency room for a headache that had persisted for two or three weeks. Wilson’s seemingly benign symptoms–he had assumed that stress was to blame for the headache–resulted in a life-altering diagnosis. A rare brain tumor was responsible for the continuous and escalating pain. Though the tumor itself was benign, removal meant a major surgery with major risks. Wilson withdrew from school to focus all his energy on his recovery, and found himself drowning in hospital bills. With the original total hovering in six digits, Wilson had to rely on help from friends and relatives to make minimum payments, until insurance and a grant from The Orion Fund stepped in to help. The grant, he said, “helped speed up my recovery process. It definitely helped with the stress, and helped me get back into study mode.” Wilson’s ordeal not only confirmed his goal of becoming a doctor, but also shaped his outlook on his chosen profession. The experience “made me realize how fragile life could be, and that health is of top importance because it affects not only me, but also family and friends who care about me,” he said. As a doctor, Wilson hopes to help his patients, and their loved ones, live happier, healthier lives.
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Traumatic injury is part of the young adult experience, but not getting mugged near campus. Billy is an international graduate student working with lasers in the engineering department at UC Berkeley. The Orion Fund covered unpaid medical expenses as a TOF grant in 2010. And, we thank Billy for his support of The Orion Fund – we were pleased to see him up at our golf tournament.

Billy as a graduate student in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at UC Berkeley, Billy’s research, which is dedicated to developing nano-lasers that could lead to the development of faster, more efficient microprocessors, was abruptly interrupted when he was the victim of an unprovoked, violent attack outside of a high school basketball game. Billy was walking home from the BART station when two young men suddenly attacked him, then fled the scene. The affront not only caused multiple bodily injuries, but also shattered his glasses, resulting in devastating damage to his right eye. Numerous operations and plastic surgeries left him with minimal vision in his right eye and crippling hospital bills. When Billy, who subsists on a graduate student stipend, found himself unable to pay his medical bills, a social worker at UC Berkeley’s Tang Center encouraged him to apply for a grant from The Orion Fund, which helped him pay off part of the hospital fees, and lightened the financial burden on his family. Though his case is still cold, Billy harbors little resentment about his experience. He admits that one-eyed vision makes aspects of his work more difficult, but he has learned to ask his team for help when needed, and he makes sure to walk in groups of people at night. “Nobody’s life is perfect,” he says, “but even with some imperfections, it’s very important to stay alive and live with it, because there are still good things in the world you have yet to experience. Don’t let one single bad thing keep you from enjoying the good things.”
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