When Paige Myers rose from her wheelchair to accept her diploma last spring, the thousands watching Case Western Reserve’s commencement ceremonies roared in approval.
Now, just days after she began graduate study here, the campus community is mourning her passing.
Diagnosed in elementary school with the degenerative neuro-muscular disorder Friedreich’s ataxia, Myers died Sunday. She was 22 years old.
Myers, who used a wheelchair since her senior year of high school and a walker since age 12, was known among colleagues and friends for her positive attitude and problem-solving skills. Biology Professor Hillel Chiel had ample opportunity to observe both traits during the two years she worked in his lab.
“She had an infectious laugh,” Chiel recalled, noting that he often left conversations with her feeling energized by her kindness and generosity.
He also was impressed at her ability to overcome challenges in research. When she encountered difficulty with a program, for example, Myers wrote her own code to make it work.
“Paige demonstrated to all of us in the lab that she was a bright, talented, and confident researcher,” recalled her mentor in the lab, doctoral candidate Jeff Gill. “Paige was also a joy to work with and advise, and I will dearly miss her.”
Myers, who had just started the Master of Public Health Program at Case Western Reserve, also was active on campus in student organizations and volunteering. She was especially passionate about raising awareness about—and building a community for—people with disabilities.
She participated in the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance Ambassador Program, which brings together patient volunteers who are peer representatives of the Friedreich’s ataxia community.
On campus, Myers helped found AccessAbility, a university organization that aims to support students with disabilities and help them adjust to college life. She served as the group’s president in its first year, and its vice president the next.
Myers also participated in the Women in Science and Engineering Roundtable, the Civic Engagement Scholars program and the Undergraduate Bioethics Society.
For her involvement on campus, she was awarded the Harriet Levion Pullman Award in April 2015, which is given to an exceptional sophomore dedicated to scholarship, leadership and service.
Then as she accepted her biology degree this May, she received a standing ovation from university leaders and faculty members on stage. (Her name is called at the 1:42:26 mark in the video below.)
For Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark, it was a moment he will never forget.
“Paige Myers inspired us all,” Stark said. “She had a wonderfully positive outlook that was reflected in her ready smile. Our hearts go out to her family and friends; we all will miss her very much.”
The Daily will provide information regarding services for Myers when it becomes available.