You’ve probably heard of Crohn’s Disease or Colitis, but how familiar are you with it? Did you know that 1/20 people live with this condition? Or that 200,000 American’s are diagnosed each year? Did you know that conditions vary by individual, ranging from mild to severe? Probably not, because as Girl Scout Alumna, Alyssa Rollando puts it, “it’s a closeted disease.” Crohn’s and Colitis are chronic inflammatory bowel dieses that affect the lining of the digestive tract, and people don’t like to talk about issues that affect people if it has to do with the bathroom.
That’s exactly why Alyssa chose to work with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in Phoenix, AZ for her Take Action Project which she earned her Gold Award in 2010. Alyssa put together an educational program about Crohn’s and Colitis and presented it to various groups, churches, YMCA’s, swim teams and classes at her school.
At the age of 15, Alyssa was diagnosed with a severe case of Crohn’s Disease. The difference between Crohn’s Disease and Colitis is that Colitis is curable, Crohn’s currently is not. There are also many other side effects from having Crohn’s disease such as arthritis, psoriasis, autoimmune inflammatory diseases, diarrhea, vomiting, and more. Of those diagnosed with Crohn’s 80% will have to have some type of surgery in their life and 60% of those people will have multiple surgeries within the same year.
While Crohn’s has physically affected Alyssa, it helped identify a career path for her. “Having Cohn’s impacted the fact that I wanted to be in the medical field,” Alyssa said.
After earning her Gold Award, Alyssa attended Bucknell University where she was a member of the women’s swim team and earned her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering. This may she will graduate from the University of Kansas with her master’s degree in bioengineering with a focus in biomedical product design and an entrepreneurial certificate, and she’s not stopping there; the program takes her straight into earning her PhD, with the same emphasis and continuing research.
The device that Alyssa has been working on, and subsequently wrote her master’s thesis about, is called a Fistula Occlusion Device. This non-surgical device has the potential to help those who have had ulcers burrow between their organs and create a tunnel, a common side effect of Crohn’s and something which happened to Alyssa, twice.
The only option currently available to patients who suffer from this side effect is a major surgery with at least a 12-week recovery time. Something that Alyssa believes her research can drastically change in the future.
Alyssa is still active in Girl Scouts as an alumna and volunteers her time as a Gold Award Advisor for our council. She is currently working with four girls who are in the various stages of their Take Action Projects to earn that coveted Gold Award, an accomplishment that Alyssa believes every Girl Scout should aim for.
“While the Gold Award has an impact on the community, it has an even bigger impact on you as a person; the fact that you learned how to do something all by yourself is a big deal. It shows you that one, you are capable of doing something and solving problems that you’re passionate about; and two, shows you how much of a leader you can be no matter what the project is.”
She praises the Gold Award process for preparing girls for life after high school. “Girls will be expected to solve problems without direction, and that’s exactly what earning the Gold Award teaches them.”
Like many, earning her Gold Award was the culmination of Alyssa’s Girl Scout experience and she now looks back and sees how pivotal it was to shaping her into the person she is today. She wishes the same for the girls she now advises.
“Being able to say that you were a Girl Scout for that many years is impressive. There is nothing else that you will be able to say you did for that long.”
We are so lucky that Alyssa has joined our council and will share her wealth of knowledge with girls who are pursuing Take Action projects in the STEM fields! If you know of a Highest Award Alumna who is inspiring girls, share in the comments below!