Bryan Dammerich made an unusual choice when it came time to pick someone to shadow at work: he chose his neurosurgeon.
Bryan, 18, is a senior at Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon and an Eagle Scout. But he has another badge to wear: cancer survivor. He had survived a childhood cancer, only to have it recur last year. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor from his brain stem, followed by a series of radiation treatments. He has been treated at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and at St. Louis University Hospital.
And when shadow day came up at Father McGivney, he told his guidance counselor he wanted to shadow his neurological oncologist. His actual surgeon was unavailable, but he spent the day with the nurse practitioner. He met seven patients, each with a different form of neurological cancer.
“After that day, I really figured out I wanted to go into medicine,” Bryan said. “Even if I’m not able to save a life, I can give them a few more weeks, another month, another Christmas.”
Even if I’m not able to save a life, I can give them a few more weeks, another month, another Christmas.
Bryan Dammerich, senior at Father McGivney Catholic High
With the full support of his parents, Michelle and Tom Dammerich, Bryan has participated in nearly every extracurricular activity offered at Father McGivney, as well as completing his Eagle project: building an information kiosk at the Gardens at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“I never thought I’d be able to do that, especially, with the medical treatment I was going through,” Bryan said. But he solicited donations from family members and worked out a design plan with his father, an engineer.
On construction day, Bryan directed the volunteers from a lawn chair, still weakened from his radiation treatments.
“Even though I wasn’t the one putting the shovel in the ground, I was supervising it,” he said.
His Eagle ceremony took place in December at Father McGivney, with many from the school and extended family turning out in support.
Now Bryan is looking forward to his future at St. Louis University, where he has received an academic scholarship based on his 3.8 GPA and ACT score of 35, as well as an additional scholarship based on essays and interviews.
“The thing that’s always pushed me forward… is that there’s always something better to come,” Bryan said. “If I hadn’t gone through the surgeries, I wouldn’t have met my oncologists… I wouldn’t know how much I love medicine. Within every tragedy, there’s a blessing.”
Meet Bryan Dammerich
- Age: 18
- Town: Glen Carbon
- School: Father McGivney Catholic High School
- Grade: Senior
- Family: Parents Michelle and Tom Dammerich and brother Nate Dammerich
- Clubs/activities: Student Ambassadors, National Honors Society, Boy Scouts, Eucharistic Minister at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Edwardsville, church youth group. Previously played soccer and cross country, but medical issues curtailed further sports activity.
- Volunteer work: 300 hours of volunteer service at pregnancy centers, food pantries, Special Olympics, Challenger baseball, visiting nursing homes, running the tutoring program, volunteering at Anderson Hospital, Wounded Warrior Run, cleaning veterans’ graves, Stop Hunger Now. Working with five other teens to raise $34,000 to allow the youth group to attend World Youth Day 2016 in Poland.
- Favorite class: Math. “Math has a specific answer for everything. Each equation is like a puzzle; you have certain data points, and you can figure out the answer.”
- Favorite past times: Hanging out with his brother and friends, reading epic fantasy like J.R.R. Tolkein and George R.R. Martin, and poetry. “You can read poetry 15 different times and get a different thought every time.”