Caitlin Mongon, age 17, wrote the following essay about her experience this summer as a response to a college application query about a time she faced a challenge or setback. Caitlin wants to make a positive impact on the world as a doctor, and we believe that she most certainly she will.
The setting sun, glowing amber in the evening sky, cast warm rays of orange light across the tips of my outstretched hands. The summer air was humid; it
felt like breathing in fog. I watched the white swamp birds drift lazily across the street, their wings outstretched, feathers catching the light of a brilliant Florida sunset. They seemed so free. It was in this instant that I finally felt what the doctors had been telling me to feel for a month and a half – hope.

Clostridial soft tissue infection – the bane of my summer – was the flesh-eating disease that took a team of ten doctors to diagnose. The fourteen surgeries that followed were some of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences of my life.

In order to begin healing, I watched the doctors remove infected flesh and tissue, and after each procedure, I awoke to a new part of myself gone. Unchecked, the infection would have spread deeper into my body, killing muscles, fat, and eventually, major organs. The doctors had to be aggressive. Antibiotics robbed my body of energy. My hair was falling out in chunks. I didn’t care anymore. I was dying from the inside out – starting with my will to survive.
The nurses at Wolfson Children’s Hospital changed all of that. On the Fourth of July, they brought me poppers, balloons, and glow sticks before wheeling me outside for a spectacular view of Jacksonville’s firework display. I smiled for the first time in ages that night. Over the next month, I got to know them not only as nurses but also as sisters, mothers, and friends. They taught me to see beauty in the darkest of places. The day I was discharged, bandaged from head to toe like a mummy, my nurses threw me a party complete with a tie-dyed sheet cake and a banner reading, “You Are Magical!” It was one of the best days of my life.

As I stepped out of the car at my house, I turned toward the street and sky, and soaked in the feel of sunlight on the tip of my nose. The weeks spent under fluorescent lights, my mind suspended in the cleanliness and sterility of the hospital, all of the doubt and the fear I felt during that month and a half – it had to happen. Without it, I wouldn’t face the sun with the certainty I do today. I wouldn’t love my life with the freedom and flight of a swamp bird, and I wouldn’t stand in the street every evening, face warm with the kiss of the summer sky, smiling like a lunatic in a way that only those who have lived in darkness – and survived – could understand.


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