Dedication to medical research, health care wins student two scholarships
1/19/2007 -

 Jamie Tidmore in the lab with Sean O’Connell, assistant professor of biology.

 Jamie Tidmore in the lab with Sean O’Connell, assistant professor of biology. The new O'Connell Scholarship was created to honor O'Connell's sister, Stacy, who died in 2006 after a third battle with breast cancer.

Bryson City resident Jamie Tidmore watched her aunt battle breast cancer and struggled, as an 11-year-old, to understand why – why it happened and why the doctors couldn’t make her better.

The experience helped guide Tidmore to Western Carolina University, where she is a senior sharpening her molecular biological research skills studying bacterial species from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“I study biology to seek answers and, hopefully, someday be able to do my part to help in the fight against disease,” said Tidmore.

Her dedication to making a difference in the medical field or biological research earned her two scholarships announced this month: The Ramsey Family Scholarship, which covers in-state tuition for a pre-health professional student, and the new Anastasia “Stacy” M. O’Connell Endowed Scholarship, which aids a student interested in cancer research.

“It means a lot to me for many reasons to have won these scholarships. In the 12 years since my aunt’s death, biological researchers have made tremendous gains in the field of cancer, and the survival rate has increased with every year,” she said. “I am confident that had my aunt been diagnosed today, her chances of survival would be great. Yet with all of the advances there is still no cure or answer to the questions: why and what can we do?”

The Ramsey Scholarship was established in memory of Dr. Donald Ramsey, a Sylva optometrist.

The new O’Connell scholarship was created to honor Stacy O’Connell, who died at age 39 on April 21, 2006, in Enfield, Conn., after a third battle with breast cancer. She had been healthy for nearly 10 years after her first diagnosis, and had become an advocate for breast cancer awareness and other causes, family members said.

Her sister, Monica Fleming of Enfield decided that a scholarship and research fund would be a fitting tribute to her sister, who had earned her undergraduate degree in biology. She directed a $33,500 memorial gift to Western, where their brother Sean O’Connell is an assistant professor of biology. The endowment creates an annual $1,000 scholarship and directs $500 to the biology department to enable the scholarship recipient to work with a member of the biology faculty conducting research in molecular genetics, immunology, the ecology of disease and other fields.

“I think Stacy would greatly appreciate the meaning of this sort of award and the promise that it holds for getting young students started in biology careers, especially with the hope of helping to find cures for cancer,” said Sean O’Connell. “We take comfort in believing our loss will be a gain for the causes that Stacy supported and will also act as a permanent memorial to her life and spirit.”

O’Connell said that Tidmore, the first scholarship recipient, like his sister, has participated in fundraisers to support cancer research and volunteered her time to work with young athletes.

“Jamie is a very positive, motivated and energetic person,” O’Connell said. “I would think my sister would be proud that she will be the first recipient of this award.”

Tidmore, who is the daughter of Karen Tidmore and the niece of Flo Gorentz, is a 2001 graduate of St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School in Winchester, Tenn.

For more information about Western’s department of biology or the Stacy O’Connell Scholarship and Research Fund, call (828) 227-7244.


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