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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 | Last updated: 11:56am


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Student determined to fight cystic fibrosis




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Special education senior Julia Ruggirello compliments her roommate’s outfit while taking medication via an inhaler for her cystic fibrosis Tuesday at her home on Stoddard Avenue. Ruggirello’s morning treatment takes about a half hour to complete. Julia Nagy/The State News



Thirty-seven.

That’s the life expectancy for patients with cystic fibrosis, a hereditary and chronic disease affecting the lungs and digestive system, according to data gathered by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for 2007 to 2011.

But Julia Ruggirello, who was diagnosed with the disease at six weeks old, won’t let that number rule her life.

“I want to kick its a** and say ‘screw you,’” Ruggirello said.

The special education senior has been battling cystic fibrosis, a disease which causes mucus to build up and harbor dangerous bacteria that causes infections, for the entirety of her life. Doctors have told her that the status of her right lung is equivalent to a collapsed lung.

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By Julia Nagy / The State News
Special education senior Julia Ruggirello takes her medication for her cystic fibrosis Sept. 10, 2013, at her home on Stoddard Avenue. Ruggirello said she often jokes about getting packages with her medication, because of how expensive they are. "I just got a $15,000 package," Ruggirello said. Julia Nagy/The State News

Every day, she takes about 40 pills and gives herself 10 breathing treatments. Ruggirello has a port implanted in the right side of her chest to help doctors give her medicine, and she visits the hospital two to three times a year to treat infections.

Still, Ruggirello refuses to let the disease stop her from following her dreams and passions.

She co-founded the Spartans Fighting Cystic Fibrosis club last spring to spread awareness about cystic fibrosis and raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Additionally, Ruggirello is one of 40 finalists for the AbbVie Scholarship, a competition only for cystic fibrosis, or CF, patients.

Phyliss Milligan — manager of public affairs for AbbVie, a global research-based pharmaceutical company — said the corporation has offered the scholarship for more than 20 years to students with CF and has distributed $2.4 million.

The finalists, who were chosen according to academic record, extracurricular activities and an essay, each are awarded $2,500. One undergraduate and one graduate finalist, of which Ruggirello is in the running, will be awarded an additional $18,500 based on public votes, Milligan said.

“We are continually amazed and impressed by the caliber of students that submit applications,” Milligan said.

If she wins the scholarship, Ruggirello said she plans to use the money to pay off a loan and to finance her journey to become a teacher. Her experience with a chronic disease has pushed her to become a mentor for those who can’t control their daily lives.

“The reason I want to get into special education is because you have all of these students who have so much potential,” Ruggirello said. “(I look forward to) being the student’s advocate (and) encouraging them to want to get their dreams.”

Ruggirello, a member of the President’s Advisory Committee on Disability Issues at MSU, was on a subcommittee to create Disability in Society, Education and Pop Culture, an undergraduate seminar course meant to educate students on disability issues.

Matthew Gerhardt, a pre-professional adviser for the College of Natural Science, has known Ruggirello for two years. Gerhardt said Ruggirello brought important student input to the course.

“I think it’s marvelous to see her dedication and her passion … to continuously try to improve,” Gerhardt said. “Her willingness to give back and help other students is unparalleled.”

To vote for Ruggirello, visit abbviecfscholarship.com or text “vote14” to 23000 by Sept. 16.


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