Kaitlyn O’Connor, 2019 Glimpser
Sequoia High School, Redwood City, California
Traveled to Las Tablas, Panama

My name is Kaitlyn O’Connor, I’m a seventeen-year-old, and I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area. I had the opportunity to travel with Global Glimpse to Panama last summer. It was such an amazing experience over those two weeks in Panama that I knew I had to continue to be a part of this organization, so when I came home, I applied to be a Global Glimpse Ambassador. I have had a lot of fun recruiting and working with my school’s next group of “Glimpsers.” I am so happy that I’ve been able to continue working with this organization. I learned about Global Glimpse through ambassadors at my school my junior year. I was surprised to find out that my swim coach was the teacher in charge of the program, and after hearing all the amazing things about the program I knew I had to be a part of it.

In many ways, the story of how I got to be a part of Global Glimpse really starts almost six years ago. That was when I had my first seizure, which began a chaotic year of uncertainty for me. Doctors couldn’t determine what was causing the seizures. At first, they tried endless combinations of medicines. But my seizures persisted and grew worse. In order to control the seizures, my doctors performed two brain surgeries to remove the parts of the brain that were creating the most seizure activity. But the seizures quickly came back.

After about nine months, the doctors concluded that I had a disease called Rassmussen’s Encephalitis, which is a very rare neurological disorder that affects one half of the brain and produces constant seizures. It’s a one-in-a-million type of diagnosis. The cure for this disease is a brain surgery called a hemispherectomy, which disconnects one half of the brain. Even when successful, this surgery results in paralysis to parts of the body (hand, arm, lower leg), a loss of some vision, and various other deficits on the affected side. Since the surgery is so rare, I traveled to Cleveland Clinic to have my operation done. I’m pleased to say it was a success and the seizures stopped and have not returned in five years. Following my surgery, I stayed in the rehab hospital for three months doing all-day therapy to regain portions of the lost mobility on my left side.

Since my mobility and vision were affected, I had not dreamed of going on a two-week trip to a foreign country without the direct support of my family. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity that Global Glimpse provided me. It was such a unique opportunity, and I’m very happy that I was able to explore what it was like to be independent. This trip helped me prove to myself and others that I have the necessary skills to go to college on my own next year. Importantly, as an ambassador, I hope that I can help others who may have disabilities realize that this trip is accessible even for those with physical challenges.