When Alexia Shamaei Zadeh was eight years old, her grandmother died of cancer. She had been complaining of severe stomach pain for weeks but, unaccustomed to visiting the doctor on a regular basis, she didn’t seek treatment. After a fall at home one day, she sought out a doctor in Louisa, Kentucky, who diagnosed her with small cell lung cancer, explaining its invasive and aggressive nature. Alexia remembers the long drives to the hospital with her mother and grandmother for treatment. She died six weeks later.
Alexia had grown up idolizing doctors, dreaming of becoming one someday. But at a young age, Alexia understood that her grandmother’s death may have been preventable.
“For a long time after my grandma died, I wanted nothing to do with medicine,” Alexia says. “I was so mad.”
During her time as an undergraduate at UK, Alexia completed a degree in human nutrition. She learned about Kentucky’s unfortunate distinction of having the nation’s highest cancer incidence and mortality rates per capita, and that her home in Eastern Kentucky was disproportionately plagued by these harsh realities. Her grandmother was part of a much larger narrative about inadequate and inaccessible health care in Eastern Kentucky.
Motivated by her growing knowledge of underserved and underfunded health care services and exorbitant cancer incidences in her community, Alexia decided she wanted to be part of the change that would improve the lives of those most affected by cancer. As an undergraduate, Alexia participated in the Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) program. She gained experience in cancer research, clinical work, outreach and education initiatives, often returning to her hometown to talk about HPV vaccines and other preventative measures. The experience highlighted the lack of education and misinformation that was prevalent in her community. To create change, she realized the importance of building trust between medical professionals and patients.
As a first-year student in the UK College of Medicine, Alexia believes her background in human nutrition, coupled with her experience growing up in Eastern Kentucky, will help her cultivate strong relationships with patients and consider a more comprehensive understanding of patients’ lives.
“The people I want to help are the people I grew up around. It’s where help is needed,” says Alexia. “That’s where my purpose is.”
Mr. Gatton’s scholarship has removed Alexia’s financial barrier to attending medical school at UK and allowed her to focus solely on her studies.
“Financial strain has been very prevalent in my life,” says Alexia.
With the support of the Bill Gatton Foundation, Alexia will be able to effect positive change back home in Eastern Kentucky one day, delivering preventative and critical care to the people who need it the most.