Passion: Medicine & Facial Reconstruction Surgery
Spike: Microtia Preoperative Psychological Care Initiative for Kids
- Johns Hopkins (class of 2022)
- Santa Catalina (class of 2018)
We are incredibly proud of Jessica as she gets ready to embark upon her journey to Johns Hopkins University (11% acceptance) this autumn along with the rest of the incoming class of 2022.
Jessica has an incredible story to tell about her life growing up with unilateral microtia, which is a congenital facial deformity where the ear is malformed and much smaller. But to an eight year old girl, it meant long stares, awkward silences, and wearing her hair down even on the hottest Taiwan summer days. Her life changed forever when she underwent reconstructive surgery in middle school, and ever since then, she’s been on a mission. She has dedicated her life to helping as many people like her as possible who deserve to wear their hair up with confidence and feel ordinary.
When she first arrived in California for high school, she joined a school club called Smile Train, which raises money for facial reconstructive surgeries. From there she connected with doctors and clinicians who were all trying to address this challenge, and before long, she was president of Smile Train and leading a student medical trip to Colombia with a team of plastic surgeons. On a one-week journey to Barrancabermeja, Colombia, she was pushed to her limit physically, mentally, and emotionally. She sometimes found herself holding clamps and handing out surgical instruments as a surgeon’s assistant in the operating room. At other times she played with kids in the waiting room, comforting and distracting them from the scary surgery ahead. It was in the Colombian jungle that she noticed something that would ignite her Spike and push her even further than she’d already gone. Kids who are more worried and anxious before the surgery actually heal slower after the surgery. So she set out to build something that could help kids and their families feel less stressed about the surgery and thus recover faster and with less scarring.
She started small. Her first idea was to create a brochure filled with stories and tips from her own experience so families could feel more at ease about the whole process. Her first prototype was printed on a single sheet of paper.
With a stack of these brochures in one hand and a heart full of hustle, she stepped back into a local hospital in Taipei, the same hospital where she had her own reconstructive surgery in what felt like a lifetime ago. As her coach, I still remember the tears in her voice when she told me about the relentless rejection. No one would talk to her because they thought she was handing out flyers or advertisements. But towards the end of a long day of no-thank-yous, one person said yes and invited Jessica to an online community of parents, all of whom have kids with microtia.
From that point on, Jessica crowdsourced the entire project and that one-page brochure quickly grew to become a massive online resource, which was downloaded by fourteen hundred families across all of southeast Asia within the first week of publication. Many members of the online community reached out to Jessica because they were brought to tears with hope as they read the testimonials and advice. Some sent money to Alegria, the team of doctors whom Jessica assisted in Colombia. Some placed physical copies of the booklet in the clinics and hospitals in their respective communities. Even now, she’s still in touch with many of them.
Many look on Jessica’s journey and think she is some sort of superwoman. It’s true that not everyone can be “lucky” enough to be born with microtia and have a backstory fit for a movie. But make no mistake, Jessica’s greatest strength was not in her sympathetic childhood, but in her humility and compassion. She knew personally what it was like to walk around in these kids’ shoes. At The Spike Lab, we believe that everyone is capable of achieving extraordinary things, and students can do so much more than they ever imagined possible. It just takes some passion and the courage to run with it wherever that passion goes.