Family crises inspire Blue Island teenager to become a doctor
BY CHERYL DANGEL BARTOLINI Correspondent August 31, 2012 12:48PM
Ana Ramirez, a senior, poses with Incan design hats and container along with an alpaca figurine at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island. Ramirez recently returned from three weeks in Peru after receiving a grant from Rustic Pathways. | Joseph P. Meier~Su
Updated: October 4, 2012 6:00AM
Ana Ramirez, a senior at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, has been thinking for some time about becoming a doctor.
“It’s been her dream to be a doctor with Doctors Without Borders,” said Michele Alfano, a Spanish teacher at Eisenhower. “Sometimes I hear kids say, ‘I want to be a doctor,’ and it is easy to talk of it. But this is a student who I believe is going to do it.”
Ramirez, 17, who ranks sixth in her class, was inspired to go into medicine when her family was dealing with its share of medical crises. One relative needed a liver transplant; another had a genetic disorder.
When they were sick, “I realized we were fortunate to be in a country with good medical care, but this isn’t the case worldwide,” said Ramirez, who first began contemplating a career in medicine at age 12.
Ramirez wrote an essay about her dream to work as a doctor with Doctors Without Borders. She then went on a three-week service trip to Peru in July, thanks in part to a Chairman’s Grant awarded by Ohio-based Rustic Pathways, which offers travel programs to remote destinations for high school students, families, groups and college students.
“It really was one of the best experiences I ever had. When I actually got there, the people were so welcoming, and everyone in my group was free-spirited,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez, of Blue Island, spent the three weeks working in several Peruvian villages in the Andes Mountains, building greenhouses on islands in the region and visiting Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan site.
“What I like about Rustic Pathways is that their service is real service in a total-immersion experience,” Ramirez said.
That meant that during the three weeks she was away, Ramirez had no contact with home: no phones, no computers.
She spent the first week of her trip in the small, remote village of Lunahuana, where residents speak Quechua as their first language and Spanish as their second.
The grant from Rustic Pathways did not include airfare or spending money, so Ramirez took it upon herself to introduce herself around and explain her mission. Among those who stepped up to support her were Blue Island Mayor Donald Peloquin, Eisenhower Principal Dr. Gary Rauch, Eisenhower Spanish teacher Rita Diaz, and Paul Revere Intermediate School Principal Carl Gmazel.
Immediately after returning from Peru, Ramirez visited Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., as part of its Dartmouth Bound program. She was one of 50 students out of hundreds of applicants who were accepted for the program geared to low-income minority students. Dartmouth paid all expenses for her three-day visit and encouraged her to apply.
“I fell in love with Dartmouth. I think this is the school for me. Everyone is so welcoming, and there’s a lot of school spirit,” Ramirez said.
Wherever she goes, Ramirez wants to study biology and anthropology.
“Right now, I want to be a general practitioner,” she said.
But she is open to other ideas, she said, “especially when I get into medical school. But I do know that I want to follow the medical field.”
Alfano said Ramirez is in “genius mode” at Eisenhower and that it’s clear she will go far beyond where most kids do.
“She is a tremendous humanitarian,” Alfano said.
The respect is mutual, according to Ramirez.
“Ms. Alfano, she has taken me out of the Blue Island community. She is my Spanish teacher this year, and I love to write, and that caught her attention,” Ramirez said. “She is an interesting person and knows of opportunities around the Chicago area and exposes me to new ideas and new information.”
Ramirez also is active with mathletes, swimming, youth and government, student council and National Honor Society.
Her parents, Alma and Rogelio Ramirez, keep her focused.
“My parents were my first teachers, and they told me to do really well in school,” she said.