Remarkable Seniors: Student overcomes serious health issues, family tragedy

PALM COAST | Courage, compassion and grace beyond her years epitomize Alyssa Lamberti say those who know the 18-year-old Palm Coast woman whose spirit and faith gives her strength to persevere despite serious health issues and family tragedy.

Lamberti of Palm Coast graduated May 20 from St. Joseph Academy Catholic High School in St. Augustine. She has Marfan syndrome, which is a life-threatening genetic disorder affecting the body’s connective tissue. Connective tissue holds all the body’s cells, organs and tissue together.

“I’m aware that I have it and I know that I have to be careful, but I try not to focus on it because I feel if I focus on it then I won’t be motivated to try new things,” Lamberti said.

However, sometimes it can’t be ignored.

Because of an aortic aneurysm stemming from the condition, Lamberti underwent open heart surgery April 10, 2015. She recovered with the love and support of her father, John, two brothers, William and Anthony, other family members and friends.

Lamberti bounced back quickly and returned to school three weeks after the surgery. She was eager to go back to school, said her father, a software engineer who also has Marfan syndrome.

“If I didn’t go back when I did, if I was lying down in my bed, I knew that mentally, I’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m not feeling good,’ and I wouldn’t really get back to my regular schedule. And I really wanted to get back to it,” said Lamberti of her desire for normalcy.

The health scare was tough because it accentuated the loss of her mother, Lisa, who died suddenly in September 2010, when Lamberti was in middle school. Her mom was Lamberti’s best friend, strongest supporter and advocate as well as a mentor, according to Jeri L. Williar, guidance director at St. Joseph Academy, who nominated Lamberti as one of the Times-Union’s Remarkable Seniors.

Lamberti wants to become a speech therapist for the deaf community. She plans to attend Valencia College in Orlando to get an associate’s degree, then transfer to the University of Central Florida to get her bachelor’s degree. She will be carrying on an important part of her mother’s legacy,

“My mom was really involved in the deaf community … and just having the deaf influence in my life for the past 18 years, it really just became natural for me to want to do something in the deaf community,” she said.

Lisa Lamberti was a religious education teacher for the Diocese of St. Augustine at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. She also was a eucharistic minister, sign language interpreter and Girl Scout volunteer. Her mother also was the voice for Lamberti’s 17-year-old brother, William, who is deaf. After her mother died, Lamberti quickly took over that role, mastering sign language and helping teach it to their father so the family could communicate better with each other.

Lamberti maintained a strong academic schedule at the high school.

She was active in its American Sign Language Club as well as the National Sign Language Honor Society, Williar said. Lamberti also was first vice president of the high school’s Drama Club, where she served as a director and actor in productions.

John Lamberti said his daughter is serving her second year on the Teen Council of the national nonprofit, The Marfan Foundation, based in Port Washington, N.Y. Lamberti helps educate other teens and children who have the condition.

Inspired by Lamberti, Williar said, the school recently had a candy sale to raise awareness of Marfan syndrome, and collected money for the foundation.

Her father said his daughter will help lead a workshop for parents of children with Marfan at the foundation’s annual Family Conference Aug. 4-7 in Rochester, Minn.

“It’s a workshop where all the parents can talk to the teens and they can just ask us questions about our daily lives and how we deal with it,” said Lamberti, who added she’s found different outlets to the point where she doesn’t notice it.

People with Marfan syndrome generally don’t play competitive sports such as basketball because it would be very hard on their heart, and also their ligaments to the point where they can be injured easily, her father said.

Lamberti, who loves to dance and also was active in Girl Scouts as well as played piano, always has focused on what she can do — not what she can’t do, her father said.

“Many people can’t do a lot of things. But what can you do? She’s always been able to find things that have excited her, kept her interested and kept her going,” said John Lamberti, noting that as much as she wanted to play volleyball, she couldn’t so she discovered the Drama Club, which has fueled her passion for the theater.

Lamberti said she also relies on friends who also have Marfan or whose siblings have the condition. They text, talk or video-chat with each other practically every day.

“We just tell each other what’s going on in our daily lives and it really helps because there are other people across the country who have the same thing you do and they’re also going on with their daily lives. It definitely helps on the days that it becomes like a reality and it’s really hard to get through,” she said.

Although she’s graduated, Lamberti plans to help with a summer drama camp the high school is hosting for younger students. In addition to drama, Lamberti also loves to write and hopes to become a published author in the future.

More remarkable seniors

Earl Sparkman IV

Earl Sparkman IV, 17, graduated from Middleburg High School on May 27. He overcame challenges in his home life, and struggled academically but persevered, Kimberly Wiggins, his senior math teacher, wrote in nominating him as a remarkable senior. Sparkman had an overall grade point average of 0.3 at the end of his freshman year. When he entered 12th grade, he had a 1.0 GPA and was behind 5.5 credits. But with the stability and guidance of a friend’s family, as well as his mother’s encouragement, Sparkman worked hard at his studies to raise his GPA and recover his credits so he could graduate with a high school diploma along with his class. Wiggins also said Sparkman told her that the suicide of a best friend made him realize that he had to make better decisions in his own life.

Jordan Burnett

Jordan Burnett, 18, of Duval Virtual Instruction Academy, not only is graduating but also finished her coursework a semester early, said Kristin Smith, a school counselor who nominated her. Smith said Burnett had been so shy and uncomfortable around crowds that her grandparents enrolled her as a full-time virtual student. Along with an aunt’s encouragement, Burnett came out of her shell, gained self-confidence and became an advocate for herself — all of which contributed to her academic success. Burnett plans to attend Florida State College at Jacksonville in the fall and study to become a pediatric nurse, Smith said in nominating her.

Gerardo Silva

Gerardo Silva, 18, graduates Monday from Wolfson High School as a member of the National Honor Society and Tri-M Music Honor Society. Described as a talented clarinet player and asset to the high school’s band, Silva overcame academic struggles that at one point brought him to the brink of failing eighth grade, said Jo Ann G. Walker, high school graduation coach, in her letter nominating Silva, whose family moved here from Guatemala. Walker said Silva often did his homework during school hours because he didn’t have free time at home due to helping his father with construction or plumbing work, and helping take care of his younger siblings. Silva, who already has earned 23 college credits, plans to attend FSCJ, then go on to Florida State University and major in occupational therapy and psychology, Walker said.

Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075

Remarkable Seniors: Student overcomes serious health issues, family tragedy

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