From Cancer Diagnosis to Medical School

Thursday, April 27, 2017

by Elizabeth Krakoviak '17

Senior biology major Michael DiMuzio has always had a passion for science. But the future medical student was propelled in the direction of the health care field after a battle with leukemia that began in middle school.

“[The diagnosis] was really hard on me in the beginning because I was unaware of what the disease even was,” DiMuzio recalls. “The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was just such a great resource for me and my family, to help us understand my disease and to have a game plan for where I was going in the future with my treatment.”

Due to his almost daily visits to the hospital, DiMuzio was homeschooled with visits from his high school teachers during the first semester of ninth grade. By the second half of his freshman year and through the end of his treatment in his junior year, he was able to attend classes.

“I am now five years in remission and finally moving onto survivorship,” he says.

The experience left him with a desire to help others through medicine.

“The compassion that came from my doctors and nurses at CHOP, backed by their expertise in caretaking, inspired me to go into medicine as a way to give back and help those in need,” he says. In addition to his biology major, DiMuzio also carries a minor in health care ethics.

At Saint Joseph’s, the resident of Upper Dublin, Pennsylvania, participated in extensive research on Ustilago maydis, a pathogenic fungus that causes corn smut disease, as part of the Summer Scholars Program. He was mentored by Karen Snetselaar, Ph.D., graduate director and professor of biology.

Snetselaar praises DiMuzio for his strong research skills.

“Mike has always been an outstanding student in the classroom, but he's become a strong researcher over the past several years,” she says. “He is especially skilled in researching, developing and trouble-shooting new and complex protocols. His patience and cheerful persistence when things do not work correctly the first time is especially valuable. He's also been a great mentor and friend to other students in the lab.”

As a health care ethics minor, DiMuzio has work with SJU’s Institute of Clinical Bioethics (ICB). He was the coordinator of “Health Care Promoter,” a clinic in Philadelphia designed by the ICB that helps poor and underserved communities. There, trained health promoters provided preventative measures to patients such as taking blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol readings. The senior also worked with the ICB on a project to develop an inexpensive water filtration system for use in developing nations.

“The Institute of Clinical Bioethics has been a very helpful way for me to give back to the community while also igniting my passion for medical school,” DiMuzio says.

DiMuzio was also an assistant research scholar for an article on methods for ascertaining pediatric brain cancer tissue donations published last year. The paper, titled “Pediatric Brain Cancer Tissue Donation: Ask and You Shall Receive,” was a collaborative effort between DiMuzio and fellow SJU students Brendan Gleason ’17, Jennifer Schadt ’17 and Brant Edmonds ’17; Mercy Catholic Medical Center resident Ana Maheshwari; and Peter Clark, S.J., Ph.D. ’75, director of the Institute of Clinical Bioethics.

This summer, DiMuzio will begin the M.D. program at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, with hopes to also earn his Ph.D. in the future.

“Thanks to my experiences at SJU, I am excited to see how I can use research to affect the field of medicine in the future,” he says.

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