Johnstown Native and Future Physician Triumphs Despite Adversity
Saint Joseph's University grad and cancer survivor realizes dream of attending medical school
PHILADELPHIA, PA (05/03/2012)(readMedia)-- At only 13 years of age, Andrea Fritz of Johnstown, Pa., told her parents she planned to go to medical school in order to make a difference in the lives of others, a goal determined by her own encounter with a rare form of cancer. Since making her decision, Fritz has dedicated her time to the sciences and to fighting cancer through service, ultimately becoming the chemistry major with the highest GPA in her class, an active student at SJU and a nationally recognized fundraiser – despite the obstacles she's fought along the way. On Saturday, May 12, Fritz will don her cap and gown and receive her diploma alongside more than 1,000 of her peers, and take the next step toward her goal: in the fall, she will begin her studies at Drexel University's College of Medicine, the same medical school her father attended when it was Hahnemann University.
The optimistic graduate of Saint Joseph's University's Class of 2012 describes her tenacity in simple terms: "When you follow your heart, things work out," Fritz says.
The day she told her parents her plan to become a doctor, Fritz was recovering from the first of several surgeries to treat synovial sarcoma, a cancer that typically occurs near the joints in the arms and legs. With her cancer located in her leg, Fritz's treatment left her temporarily confined to a wheelchair, and then sent her through years of physical therapy. For a teenager who was active in sports, the experience led her to choose a new outlet for her energy: fundraising for Relay for Life, which benefits the American Cancer Society.
"During that time, I was looking for something to do," says Fritz. "I'd always been involved in sports and I wanted to stay active."
During high school, Fritz raised $100,000 for Relay for Life through a letter campaign targeted at her family and friends. The amount earned her the distinction of highest youth fundraiser in the nation, and, when she applied to college, the Eagles Fly for Leukemia Scholarship to SJU. Partnered with the Eagles Fly for Leukemia Foundation, established by Philadelphia Eagles' former tight end Fred Hill, SJU offers the full-tuition scholarship to an incoming freshman who has survived cancer through strength, courage and determination.
Soon after arriving on campus in 2006, she began courses toward a major in physics. But in October, Fritz started to suffer from seizures – the result of a head injury she sustained in a car accident just before leaving home for college. Only three months into her freshman year, Fritz had to take a two-year leave of absence to undergo cognitive therapy to improve her memory and regain her ability to learn.
Despite the setback, Fritz recovered and returned to SJU in the fall of 2008 and continued with a full course load, earning Dean's List recognition every semester. In the summer of 2009, she remained on campus as a Summer Scholar, working under Paul Angiolillo, Ph.D., chair and associate professor of physics, to study fossils using elecroparamagnetic resonance spectroscopy (EPR). Though she enjoyed the project and physics as a whole, Fritz felt that switching to chemistry better suited her career interests.
The following year she officially began studying chemistry, where she excelled. In the summer of 2010 she stayed at SJU again, this time researching heme proteins with Jose Cerda, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry; the research continued beyond the Summer Scholars program and into Fritz's junior and senior years.
"Andi is a sweet person who possesses great tenacity," says Cerda. "She conducts herself in a professional manner in everything she does. I know that she will be an excellent health care professional."
In 2009, Fritz, like many others, contracted swine flu (H1N1), and she had to withdraw from a few classes in order to get well yet again. True to form, though, her motivation was unhindered.
For Fritz, the encounters she's had with illness and medicine make her more certain of her career path.
"Patients come in sick and scared," she says. "If you haven't walked in their shoes, sometimes you don't realize how that affects them. I know what it's like to face that kind of uncertainty."
In addition to her full scholarship, Fritz has earned a Pennsylvania State Commendation for Community Service, induction into the Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit honor society, the Sigma Xi research honor society, the Alpha Epsilon Delta premedical honor society, and an American Chemical Society Award for having the highest GPA within her major's graduating class. She speaks at award ceremonies and participates in fundraising events for the American Cancer Society, the Kyle and Rose Epilepsy Foundation and Conemaugh Mentoring in Medicine. On campus, she served as president of Alternate Universes, a service organization that raises money for Child's Play, a nonprofit that provides games for hospitalized children.