Watch CBS News

Rising Scholar Overcomes Severe Childhood Challenges, Sees Bright Future

by Christin Ayers and Jennifer Mistrot

SANTA CRUZ (KPIX 5) -- Ysabella Donlan is excited about her future after maneuvering a challenging and heartbreaking past. The 21-year-old college junior wants to be a pediatrician, and she is well on her way to achieving that goal after enrolling in STEM courses at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"I tell people that I am a chemistry-slash-biology major and they look at me like I am crazy," said Donlan. "I am, like, 'It's so much fun!'"

College is clearly a joy for Donlan, but her high school experience was very different. She watched as her beloved father battled alcohol addiction.

LEARN MORE: Students Rising Above

"My high school experience was, 'Is my father going to come home alive today?' I took various doctor's trips with my father because he was not conscious enough to get there himself," recalled Donlan. "So I had a lot of late nights where I would be in the ER until about 2 or 3 in the morning knowing I had to be at school the next day."

With her mom out of the picture, Donlan took a job to help pay the household bills. The stress of working and going to school, along with being her father's caretaker, began to take its toll on Donlan so she made the difficult decision to move away from her dad.

"In some ways I felt free," recounted Donlan. "In some ways I felt selfish for being free."

Then came some devastating news, her father had passed away.

"I felt like in a way I had failed him," said Donlan. "And that was hard. I wanted him to have his world, and his world was me."

To ease her grief, Donlan reached out to Students Rising Above. She shared her story at a recent SRA event. The support she received from those in attendance provided her with a newfound confidence.

"I was surrounded by a group of people who knew my life mattered, too," said Donlan. "And it was one of the greatest feelings that I could describe."

Now she's looking forward to school, and honoring her father's memory by doing well and planning for a bright future.

"Sharing my story made me realize that my life did matter. And that my father's did too," said Donlan proudly. "I am living a life that I never thought I would have."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.