Living with Friedreich Ataxia: Elizabeth’s story

Elizabeth is a student pursuing cell and molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania and living with Friedreich ataxia.  She shares her story of learning to accept her present without becoming overwhelmed by future possibilities, saying, “We have a condition, but we're just like anyone else.” Her pursuit for understanding the science behind the debilitating neurological condition to empower others keeps her motivated on her path forward. 


“My name is Elizabeth Mercado-Ayon. I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I am studying cell and molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania. 

We focus on Friedreich ataxia, and I focus on how the cerebellum is affected by frataxin deficiency because I found out that I had Friedreich ataxia. 

When I looked it up, it said like in ten years you're going to be wheelchair bound. So, by when I was diagnosed, I was walking and not fully struggling with anything. So, I was like if you're walking and you read 'oh you’re going to be wheelchair bound,' that was tough. 

But once you're actually on the path of getting there it’s not as bad. 

Understanding how our bodies work there are so many ways things can go wrong and FA is one of them; something went wrong with our DNA, and now we're like this. We have a condition, but we're just like anyone else. 

I'm very thankful that I have so much interest in science. Knowing that I had Friedreich ataxia I knew that I wanted to focus on it. I know that somehow this knowledge that I uncover is going to potentially help me and others affected."

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