True North Recovery Services created the Kristina Flores Overcoming All Odds Scholarship to encourage young people to continue their education despite overwhelming challenges they must face along the way. It was named after Kristina Flores, who tragically passed at the young age of 23, to honor her life and achievements. For this scholarship, the continuing education requirements were intentionally loose, because we wanted to encourage all young people to pursue an education, whether it be through a traditional university or a vocational school. We asked all applicants to display how they overcame significant obstacles to complete or continue their schooling through a 1,000 word essay.

Earlier this week, we chose Solomiya Dezhnyuk as the winner of this $1,000 scholarship award.  Through her beautiful essay, Solomiya described how she was able to overcome difficult health issues, graduate high school, and begin attending college. When Solomiya was only 2 months old, she developed an infection on her spinal cord, which caused left side paralysis, and at 6 years old, the situation advanced to scoliosis. At 7 years old, doctors decided to give her growing rods, which would require surgery every 6 months to stretch out her spine. From 7 years old, she was required to balance school and spinal surgeries at a hospital 3 hours away from her home. Once she entered middle school, it became very difficult to keep up with her education while being absent from school so often.

In 11th grade, Solomiya received a spinal fusion that caused her to miss school for 3 months. Unwilling to fall behind, she had a tutor come to her house to help her learn what she was missing in school. Unfortunately, the spinal fusion failed and during her senior year, Solomiya had to undergo three surgeries within 2 months at a hospital out of her home state. While most seniors were thinking about what dress they would wear to prom, Solomiya was thinking about contacting doctors and her medical insurance coverage. On top of all that, she was having great difficulty breathing, because her spine was compressing her organs and lungs. It was very difficult for her to eat and walk, because it took so much energy and breath to do those activities.

However, through all of these challenges, Solomiya was able to continue her schooling. Her senior year she went to prom, took an AP class, was in ASB leadership, and made the honors society club. During her most difficult times, people suggested that she drop out of school. But Solomiya was determined to finish. She didn’t want her circumstances to stop her from succeeding. She considers graduating high school with her peers and being involved in extracurricular activities, all while dealing with her health issues, to be one of the biggest accomplishments of her life so far.

After her latest surgery during her senior year, Solomiya’s health has been better than ever. She has been able to attend college and continue her education. We are so excited to present this award to Solomiya. Her dedication to her education despite her health issues has inspired all of us. As Solomiya so wisely put it, “Life is precious. We cannot take it for granted. In the end, what really matters is how you choose to react in times of adversity. If you choose to fight, you’ll come out stronger in the end.” Congratulations Solomiya. We are so proud of you, and we encourage you to keep fighting for your education.