Isidore Wise Award Winners Redefine Excellence

Categories: Partners in Caring, Patient Families
Isidore Wise Scholarship Recipients for 2019
This year’s Isidore Wise Award Winners are (from left to right): Elisa Shaholli, Ryan Bell, Michael Holtz, Kumar Darsh and D’Ziyah Mitchell.

When you make a donation to Connecticut Children’s, you don’t just provide life-saving medical care in the moment it’s needed; you make possible amazing futures. Take, for example, Kumar Darsh.

When Kumar was 8 months old, doctors at Connecticut Children’s told his parents that he only had 30 minutes to live—he has an extremely rare bleeding disorder, and he was hemorrhaging in his brain. He had been having a seizure that wouldn’t stop, and the doctors thought he probably had so much brain damage from the bleeding that he would not be functional even if they could save him. But, as always, the doctors included the family in the decision-making, and Kumar’s parents wanted to take the chance. That, as it turned out, was the right choice. The doctors were, in fact, able to stop the bleeding and saved his life. As for brain damage, it seems safe to say that was not an issue—Kumar was named one of five Isidore Wise Award winners.

Established through the bequest of Isidore Wise, a long-time board member of Newington Children’s Hospital, the awards each year provide a scholarship to worthy high school seniors ho are current or former patients of Connecticut Children’s who plan to further their education at an accredited college. This year, 209 students applied—the largest number yet received—and all of them were extremely gifted. The winners are chosen by a committee of educators and medical experts.

Meet the 2019 Isidore Wise Award Winners

Kumar DarshKumar Darsh

Kumar is a graduating senior from Farmington High School, where he has had many impressive accomplishments. He won multiple state medals as part of his Science Olympiad team, captained his Farmington Science Bowl to a top finish in the Northeast region and is captain of Farmington’s debate team, having been a state champion himself. Kumar is also very involved in community service. He cofounded his own nonprofit organization, Power of Peace, raising $150,000 for Connecticut Children’s, the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp and for an orphanage in India. With a passion for science, technology and math, and having completed a research project in bone cancer at UConn, Kumar will be attending Carnegie Mellon University in the fall, where he will study computer engineering along with biomedical engineering.

Ryan BellRyan Bell

Ryan has Treacher Collins syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the development of bones and other tissues of the face and can cause problems with speech, breathing and eating. In addressing the consequences of the syndrome, Ryan has undergone 46 surgeries in his young life. And with the help of Connecticut Children’s craniofacial and speech departments, he can now eat completely by mouth, which is something that many people thought would never be possible.

Whatever challenges his condition presented, he didn’t let them slow him down in any way. Ryan is a senior at Mark T. Sheehan High School in Wallingford, where he is a high honors student and secretary of the National Honor Society. He has been a member of the swim team and marching band and was a founding member of the school’s eSports team. Outside of school, he led a team that raised more than $50,000 for the nonprofit organization Heifer International.

One of the things that Connecticut Children’s staff helped Ryan with was his speech. They taught him to articulate his speech so others could understand him. And that work has paid off handsomely: Ryan is an in-demand public speaker for community and school groups, sharing his life experiences of growing up with a craniofacial disorder. He gives these talks with the hope of encouraging kindness, acceptance and the message that one person can make a difference.

Ryan’s speeches have reached approximately 4,000 people in the past two years. His life story was published as a chapter in the book Live Happy: Ten Practices for Choosing Joy by Deborah Heisz. He presented a talk on patient advocacy to the Society for Craniofacial Genetics and Developmental Biology held at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University. His story has been featured in national magazines, including World Ark and Parade, as well as local publications, including the Record Journal, New Haven Register, and Connecticut Magazine.

Ryan plans to attend the University of New Haven to pursue a degree in genetics and biotechnology. He hopes to further his education with a master’s degree in genetic counseling, with an aim of helping others make decisions about their own medical needs based on interpretation of their genetics.

Michael HoltzMichael Holtz

Michael had a brain tumor that was treated with chemotherapy and radiation at another hospital, but his treatment had severe side effects, consequences that threatened his ability to walk. Connecticut Children’s has one of the most advanced and renowned orthopedics facilities in the country, so Michael’s parents brought him here. To benefit his gait and fatigue, his doctors at Connecticut Children’s created special orthotic inserts. He also underwent serial casting to further improve his gait and flexibility.

Michael is a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School in Fairfield. An active member of his high-school community, he was selected as a student representative to participate at Fairfield Board of Education meetings, and he plays and performs in the trumpet section of the concert band.

He has competed as a thrower and sprinter on his high school’s track team and has also served as team manager for the soccer program for the past four years. He’s a member of the Make-A-Wish Club and enjoys promoting Make-A-Wish’s Connecticut Chapter and national campaigns.

Michael received the Coaches Award and a rare varsity letter as a manager for the soccer program. Other awards include the Superintendent’s Award and a commendation from the town of Fairfield for his entry in a state government contest. He is also a recipient of the National President’s Volunteer Service Award.

In addition to his involvement at Ludlowe High School, Michael is a Fairfield Public Library volunteer and a member of Scholars & Athletes Serving Others, where he volunteers for many local organizations within the greater Fairfield community.

He has also volunteered at Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit resort in Kissimmee, Florida, where he helps to create memorable vacations for children and families facing life-threatening illnesses.

Michael will attend Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where he plans to major in marketing.

D’Ziyah MitchellD’Ziyah Mitchell

D’Ziyah was born prematurely and began life at Connecticut Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Early in her life she went through five surgeries, including three on her ears to improve her hearing. And in subsequent years she had surgeries for knee problems and cyst removal. None of those issues has affected her achievements, however.

Today, D’Ziyah is a senior at Hartford Law & Government Academy. She was the captain of the varsity cheerleading team, a founding member of the Outstanding Women of Leadership Society, captain and judge of the Hartford Public High School Student Court Bar, RISE/VIOLP Student Leader, and a member of the National Honors Society. She is the salutatorian of her graduating class and has received dozens of awards and scholarships, including Highest Honors, the Yale Book Award, Citizenship Awards, Academic Achievement Certificates/Trophies, and many others. She has also received scholarships from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Hartford County Bar Association. She will be attending Howard University in the fall as a political science major.

Elisa ShaholliElisa Shaholli

Elisa receives care at Connecticut Children’s for Type 1 diabetes and has visits every three months with her endocrinologist, Cem Demirci, MD, to monitor her condition. She has learned to manage her insulin herself and has also learned to manage academic affairs to a remarkable degree.

Elisa is a senior at Wolcott High School and is graduating as the school’s valedictorian. She has a passion for literature and inclusive storytelling, which led her to establish her school’s book club, the Book Bandits. She’s president of that club and lead writer for the club’s newsletter. She plays varsity lacrosse and is a volunteer for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She received the Saint Michael’s College Book Award and has created and led numerous donation drives in her community. This includes a book drive for the Wolcott Public Library, toiletry drive for the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, Halloween costume drive for Safe Haven and a coat drive for the Salvation Army.

In the fall, Elisa will be attending the University of Connecticut’s honors program as a Presidential Scholar, Day of Pride Scholar, and National Stamps Scholar. She plans to pursue a double-major in public health and English literature. Elisa’s goal is to have a meaningful career in increasing awareness and improving inclusivity for children diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.

You Make a Difference

Your donation doesn’t guarantee that every child will grow up to be an Isidore Wise Award Winner, but it does mean that tens of thousands of children will grow up healthier and have fuller lives. Their futures are in your hands. To help make those futures happen, click here.