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home : features : people of faith

6/9/2011 3:04:00 AM
Diabetes doesn't slow Maisie down

Maisie Orsillo never asked for help injecting insulin into her arms or stomach for her diabetes - even on the day she was diagnosed at the age of 11.

Now 17, Maisie never complains if she has to leave class or take a break from dancing when her blood sugar level drops. She doesn't mind counting carbohydrates, and she found puffy prom dresses to hide her insulin pump accessories.

"There are so many people with it," she said of diabetes. "Some people take it very hard, but I was never really fazed by it."

The expected salutatorian of Fort Plain High School, Maisie's work ethic and activities got her accepted into Cornell University in Ithaca, where she will study human biology, health and society.

She's been awarded a slew of honors and scholarships - including the national, competitive Dell Scholars Program and a scholarship sponsored by the St. Isaac Jogues Youth Conference in Auriesville.

Family and friends say Maisie's faith keeps her grounded, and leaders at her parish, Our Lady of Hope in Fort Plain, worry they'll feel a little lost when she leaves for college.

"I can see her coming back and just jumping right in and helping" over breaks, said Debra DiVisconti, catechetical leader at OLH.

In addition to being an altar server, lector, retreat team leader and Christmas pageant helper, Maisie has been a fifth-grade catechist for three years.

"She's got this wonderful idea of God," Mrs. DiVisconti said. "This is a kid that knows to put God first. She puts so much of her life into His hands."

Maisie said her parish involvement stems from her "draw to God. I feel a friendship, a sort of comfort in Him and the fact that He's always there and I can always turn to Him."

Her faith grew stronger, she said, after she was confirmed and attended the St. Isaac Jogues retreat, where 200 teens gathered for music, speakers, group discussions and eucharistic adoration.

"Even complete strangers came over and sat with you," she said. "The whole thing was very empowering."

Having a priest as an uncle hasn't hurt, either. "If my brother could convince her, maybe she would have been a nun," said Maisie's mother, Doreen. "She just belongs helping people."

Maisie immerses herself in service activities: educating children on nutrition as a 4-H "public health ambassador," helping with a program that serves people on welfare, mentoring, joining anti-bullying projects and more.

"A lot of people do [community service] obligatorily," the teen remarked. "I've always liked doing it. I like going and helping other people and not getting anything back for it."

Maisie joined 4-H, a youth development organization, in elementary school and has stayed involved. She's spent summers dabbling in needlework, photography and crafts to earn prizes at fairs.

Her 4-H public health training with Cornell Cooperative Extension and 4-H college visits exposed her to Cornell University - which, she notes, has a chapel.

Maisie wants to do biomedical research or public health education when she graduates from college.

"She's a very articulate person," Mrs. Orsillo said. "I can't see her getting stuck in a lab."

Matthew Soto, a friend and co-catechist, remembered attending basic catechist training with Maisie: "She'd go right up to someone and introduce herself, and I'd follow. I definitely think she should stay working with people."

In fact, Maisie's alternative career choice is special education. When she's at home, she spends time with her younger sister, Grace, who has autism.

Outside of school, Maisie is all about dance. She's taking intensive dance classes this summer and a ballroom dancing class with her boyfriend, who is valedictorian of her class.

"My friends make fun of me because I don't like sitting still for too long," she said, laughing. Maisie's family keeps calendars in every room of the house to keep tabs on her schedule.

Mrs. Orsillo sees being involved and busy as Maisie's way of dealing with her diabetes.

"We named her right: She's amazing," said the proud mom.

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