University of Central Florida (UCF) biology major Syann Brennen wants to help people in pain just as rheumatologists did for her mother and grandmother.
For years, both valiantly battled lupus – a deadly disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues and organs. In 2017, it claimed the life of Brennen’s mom, Shanelle. A year and 10 days later, it returned for her grandmother, Gwendolyn King.
The greatest lesson they left Syann, “persevere despite the situation”.
“I knew that I had to pick myself up. I knew that things would never return to normal, but I couldn’t stay in a rut forever,” said Brennen, who was a 14-year-old ninth grade student when her mother died.
“I would watch them every day as they lived happy lives while dealing with a ruthless illness. I saw them smile through the pain and show strength even when they felt weakened by their illness. If they could do it, then so can I. It is important to me to make them both proud. This was something that I took with me all throughout school and it helped me to stay grounded. It is also a lesson that has prepared me for life and college.”
In 11th grade, Brennen made the decision to become a rheumatologist, a medical specialist who treats diseases which affect the joints, muscles, and bones.
“I vividly remember feeling inspired by the doctors who devoted their time to helping both my mother and grandmother in their fight against Lupus,” said Brennen.
“As they fought lupus, it became apparent to me that The Bahamas’ resources were limited when matched with both my mother’s and grandmother’s endless and recurring health challenges. In dire times, my family members were required to be transported to the United States (U.S.) for treatment. Growing up and seeing their health struggles first-hand gave me much to consider in terms of my career and the goals that I wanted to pursue in life. I want to make an impact and to provide persons like my mother and my grandmother with quality care in their own country.”
A less resilient person would have crumbled from the weight of caring for an ailing parent while navigating the highs, lows and rigors of high school. Brennen, an honor roll student, graduated with a 4.0 GPA (grade point average).
Last year, the 2020 St. Anne’s graduate and deputy head girl received a full scholarship from the Lewis Foundation. It covers tuition, textbooks, room and board at one of the top U.S. public universities, Orlando, Florida-based UCF.
She heard about the scholarship from her aunt, Shonalee King-Johnson, who encouraged her to apply.
Brennen’s dreams of receiving “a high-quality, well-rounded educational experience” close to home became a reality when she was notified that she was a 2021-22 recipient of the Lewis Scholarship Foundation.
“The idea of being a leader in the field of rheumatology may be a far-fetched fantasy to some, but to me, it will become a reality. The road ahead may be filled with unpredictable challenges, but I am ready to take up the mantle. The Lewis Scholarship Foundation is providing me with the tools I need to get ahead and get started.”
Andrica Smith-Munroe, spokeswoman for the Lewis Scholarship Foundation, hailed Brennen as “the perfect candidate.”
“She is brilliant, resilient, and driven. We are so proud to be a part of her journey.”
For teens facing their own seemingly insurmountable challenges, Brennen offered some advice. “Don’t let your downfalls dictate your level of success. Life may deal you a bad hand, but it’s you who can decide to forfeit or play until the end.”
To be eligible for a Lewis Foundation Scholarship, students must be a graduate of a Bahamian secondary school, provide proof of acceptance into UCF, and demonstrate financial need. Persons interested in applying should contact email@example.com. The scholarship is renewable up to eight semesters based on good academic standing at the university.