Announcing our 2021 Hydrocephalus Association Scholarship Recipients!

The Hydrocephalus Association (HA) is pleased to announce the 2021 Hydrocephalus Association Scholarship Award Recipients. We would like to thank everyone who applied for a scholarship and congratulate those of you who were selected this year. HA’s scholarship program was established in 1994 to provide financial assistance to capable and promising teens, young adults, and adults who live with the ongoing challenges and complexities of hydrocephalus.

Since the scholarship program was established, HA has awarded 228 scholarships to 228 deserving future leaders of our community. We are proud to honor these remarkable young adults. In addition to successfully managing their hydrocephalus, these students continue to excel in the classroom, volunteer and give back to help their local communities. They are an inspiration to us all, demonstrating that hydrocephalus does not stand in the way of pursuing one’s goals.

These thirteen scholarships are funded by the: Gerard Swartz Fudge Memorial Scholarship Fund,  which is supported in part by Molly Mastrangelo; Baldus Family Scholarship in Memory of Gerard Swartz Fudge; Morris L. and Rebecca Ziskind Memorial Scholarship Fund; Anthony Abbene Scholarship Fund; Justin Scot Alston Memorial Scholarship Fund; Mario J. Tocco Hydrocephalus Foundation Scholarship Fund; Kate Finlayson Memorial Scholarship; Jacobsen Family Scholarship; and the Hydrocephalus Association Scholarship, which is provided by Erik and Lisa Chamberlain.

Our gratitude is extended to all the funders for their generosity and the Scholarship Committee for all their support and dedication.

Congratulations 2021 Scholarship Recipients!


Tino Balestrini

Recipient of the Justin Scot Alston Memorial Scholarship Fund

“Having hydrocephalus has definitely made learning new skills more challenging but not insurmountable. I am very proud of my work ethic and am very grateful for the relationships I have developed with the adults in my life.”

Tino didn’t let his hydrocephalus and learning difficulties define him. He learned how to overcome some of the challenges he faced in school and was accepted at the University of Windsor where he will complete a five-year dual degree program, Bachelor of Arts (Psychology)/Bachelor of Education, in Early Childhood Education. His goal is to become an elementary school teacher and eventually a school principal.

“I have chosen to go into education because of my many positive experiences with teachers that have helped me to overcome barriers to learning and develop necessary learning strategies, study habits, time management, and more,” Tino said.


Emily Deitsch

Recipient of the Kate Finlayson Memorial Scholarship

“My aspiration for the future is to be able to use my experiences and difficult moments to help those in need.”

Growing up, Emily had to endure many hospitalizations and brain surgeries due to her hydrocephalus. She used art as a way to cope during those difficult times and developed a passion for the arts, even taking AP art courses in school. She is also an avid reader and discovered that she loves working with children after participating in a Reading Buddies program at her local library.

Now Emily hopes to take her passion for art and turn it into a career in mental health therapy to help others kids going through tough times. That’s why she is pursuing a degree in Sociology at Mount Royal University to eventually become an Art Therapist.

“My ideal career once I graduate from this program will be as an Art Therapist for children, who like myself have had to spend lengthy amounts of time in hospital dealing with illness. I think art is an amazing outlet for both children and adults and I know that during my hospital stays, it helped me immensely,” Emily said.


Jinean Dirbas

Recipient of the Mario J. Tocco Hydrocephalus Foundation Scholarship Fund

“I want to become an Emergency room nurse practitioner. What draws me the most to the medical field is the opportunity to help marginalized people, such as myself.”

Diagnosed with hydrocephalus as a teen, doctors didn’t always take Jinean’s symptoms seriously and she never wants anyone to go through what she went through. That’s why she aspires to become an emergency room nurse.  “As a patient, my pain was ignored and I was set aside due to health care providers not believing my complaints because I was female. When I become a healthcare provider, I would get to help individuals no matter their capacity or background, and I would be able to use my experience as a patient and knowledge of neurological conditions,” Jinean said.

She looks forward to attending a two-year program at Las Positas Community College and then transferring to a four-year university to major in Biology with the goal of eventually attending a nursing program.


Robert Lodge

Recipient of the Baldus Family Scholarship in Memory of Gerard Swartz Fudge

“My childhood experiences with hydrocephalus instilled in me an interest in medicine and it led me to the knowledge that science is not merely interesting; it is a vehicle to profoundly improve people’s lives.”

Excelling in school and making friends wasn’t always easy for Robert. Due to his hydrocephalus, he had coordination issues, social issues, and a severe non-verbal learning disorder (NVLD), which made learning and socializing with his peers challenging. But over time, through hard work, he learned to overcome his challenges and made it on the honor roll all throughout high school.

Now he has set his sights on attending the New Jersey Institute of Technology to major in Biochemistry with a premedical focus. His ultimate goal is to become a neurosurgeon so he can help find a cure for hydrocephalus and improved treatment options.


Elizabeth Philpot

Recipient of the Morris L. and Rebecca Ziskind Memorial Scholarship Fund

“I have always had a passion for music and a drive to help others so music therapy sounded like a fun and fulfilling career.”

Growing up, Elizabeth always loved to sing, play the piano and guitar, and now she’s studying to turn her love of music into a career. She is currently a freshman at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, OH, studying music therapy.

“Through my observations, I was able to witness the healing power of music firsthand. I am beginning to learn the foundational information and skills that I will need as a music therapist, and next semester I will have my first fieldwork placement as I begin to get my feet wet in the world of music therapy outside of the classroom,” Elizabeth explained.


Malini Popat

Recipient of the Anthony Abbene Scholarship Fund

“Along the way, there have been people who have not believed in me because of my disability but I want other kids like me to know that is not true at all. The sky’s the limit and I want to spread that message in whatever job I end up doing.”

While Malini hasn’t decided on a major yet, she is certain of one thing – that she wants to pursue a career where she can help other kids be confident and overcome challenges. She applied at several universities and plans on majoring in either Psychology, Economics, or Education.

In addition to taking AP courses in high school, and participating in varsity swimming and other activities, she also enjoys volunteering. One of her volunteer experiences involved tutoring a young girl. That experience sparked her interest in studying education and possibly becoming a teacher.

“As someone who has undergone treatment for a brain tumor, I find joy in giving back to others who are going through their own struggles. My ultimate occupational goal is to find a service-oriented career, where I can see the difference that I am making in my work. I am not yet sure of the career path that I want to take but I definitely am sure that I want to work with children and ones who possibly suffer from hydrocephalus or some other type of disability.”


Eric Rhee

Recipient of the Gerard Swartz Fudge Memorial Scholarship Fund

“I feel ready to run, to lead, and to guide other patients — and their families– to recovery.”

Born weighing just three pounds and 26 weeks premature, Eric developed hydrocephalus from a brain bleed. His parents were told he had a 10% chance of developing normally and leading a normal life. But with help from his doctors, parents, and physical, speech, and occupational therapy, he defied the odds and became stronger. He excelled in school, becoming class valedictorian, and went on to graduate from UC Berkeley.

Now, he’s in medical school at Temple University/St. Luke’s School of Medicine, studying to become a doctor and possibly even a professor so he can help shape future medical professionals.

“It is through years of learning that I hope to become a member of medical faculty someday who is able to pass down his own expertise, perspective, and knowledge to others. I believe that investing in others is crucial for collective success.”


Kristen Samar

Recipient of the Hydrocephalus Association Fund Scholarship
Special thanks to Lisa and Erik Chamberlain of Rokton, Illinios, for providing support of this scholarship.

“People need educators, mentors, disciplinarians, role models, and so much more to help push them towards a better future. I hope that someday I can be one of these silent heroes that are educating their communities on important matters such as hydrocephalus.”

Imagine being told you have a brain tumor in your brain while in a hospital where no one speaks your language? That’s what happened to Kristen while living in Japan with her family. After flying back to the U.S., she was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, likely caused by a benign tumor she had in the third ventricle of her brain. She then had two brain surgeries to have a shunt placed and returned to Japan for an intensive course of chemotherapy.

Her chemo was challenging but she credits her support system of family, doctors, teachers and counselors with helping her through it.

“After encountering these challenges, I know that I want to use my new job in the future to find knowledge and experience and transfer it into motivation for helping others. I plan to attend Salisbury University where I will major in elementary education and gain the necessary certifications to become a teacher who helps, inspires, and educates in the best way possible,” Kristen said.


BriAnna Saner

Recipient of the Gerard Swartz Fudge Memorial Scholarship Fund
Special thanks to Molly Mastrangelo for contributing to this scholarship fund. 

“I have learned that giving back to those who have the same disability as me will allow me to be a better person. It has inspired me to pursue a career in speech pathology, empowering children and adults to use their voice.”

After undergoing brain surgery for hydrocephalus, the entire right side of BriAnna’s body was impaired, which made it difficult for her to walk and to use her right hand. She spent the majority of her life in physical and speech therapy, and wore a brace on her foot and leg until age 13. However, those disabilities only made BriAnna stronger and more determined.

She excelled in school, receiving an Outstanding Student Award and the Presidential Award, and was inducted into the National Honors Society. Now she will attend Kent State University, majoring in Speech Pathology and Audiology.

“Through years of physical and speech therapy, it inspired me to help others with similar problems. My career goal is to use my college education to help children and adults with disabilities. I would like to help them overcome the hardships they may face in their life,” BriAnna said.


Antonio Sanfilippo

Recipient of the Jacobsen Family Scholarship

“Hydrocephalus is my life and will always be. But It will not stop me from reaching my goals and fulfilling my dreams.”

Antonio has always had a passion for sports but due to his hydrocephalus, he never played contact sports. But ask him any stat about football and he’ll likely know it. So it’s no surprise that when he shadowed his cousin, who was an equipment manager for all athletics at San Diego State University, a light bulb went off. “From that point on, I knew what I wanted to do for my career. I also knew that if I wanted to attend my dream school and pursue my aspirations, that I would have to work even harder. That meant getting extra tutoring, staying up late to study, and not losing focus of my goal,” he said.

His hard work paid off. He was accepted at San Diego State University, where he will major in Business Administration to pursue his dream of becoming a sports equipment manager.

“I hope to continue helping others with hydrocephalus, epilepsy, and other disabilities so that they too can do it! They too can go to college, achieve their dreams, and accomplish their goals,” Antonio said.


Claire Scognamiglio

Recipient of the Gerard Swartz Fudge Memorial Scholarship Fund

Claire grew accustomed to the hospitalizations and constant pain from her hydrocephalus. However, that didn’t stop her from playing soccer and ultimate Frisbee, and eventually joining a nationally competitive acrobatic gymnastics team and becoming a cheerleader.

She knows that anything is possible if you have encouragement, support, and work hard. That’s why she is studying to become an elementary special education teacher at the University of Missouri at Columbia (Mizzou).

“I think I have a unique perspective that will help me connect better with my students and their parents and understand a little better about where they are coming from. I look forward to being a teacher and having that special bond with kids that says ‘I’ve been there and with parents who will know I truly understand them and the different accomplishments their kids achieve,” Claire said.


Gabe Tejada

Recipient of the Anthony Abbene Scholarship Fund

“I have had to learn to advocate for myself and to navigate society with my disabilities. I have developed an attitude of knowing no limits.”

Growing up, Gabe remembers often being excluded from activities because his teachers were overly cautious about his hydrocephalus and shunt. He vividly remembers not being allowed to participate when the local fire department came to his school to demonstrate how to exit a home during a fire. Little did he know how much that moment would shape him.

“I was so upset that I cried. My mom helped me learn how to advocate for myself when I needed accommodations and when I did not need them,” he said.

Since then, he became a fierce self-advocate, fighting for what he wanted and needed. That determination helped him succeed in school, helping him earn an acceptance at the University of Nevada. Now, he looks forward to completing his first two years of college at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno and then transferring to the University of Nevada, where he will major in Education to become a high school history teacher.


Amelia Vacca

Recipient of the Morris L. and Rebecca Ziskind Memorial Scholarship Fund

“I realized that hydrocephalus does not define me as a person. I am grateful for everything hydrocephalus has done for me and would not trade the experience for anything in the world.”

Having hydrocephalus wasn’t always easy for Amelia. But fortunately, she found a hobby that helped her through the difficult times – field hockey. She was a varsity goalie for her high school’s field hockey team and won Athlete of the week and other accolades. She also developed a love of art and photography, participating in her school district’s advanced art program.

Now she’s excited to attend James Madison University to pursue her dream of becoming an Occupational Therapist.

“I myself went to an occupational therapist and seeing how much it changed my life made me want to do the same for other children out in the world. I always remember going to therapy as a fun thing and it allowed me to try new foods and develop into the person I am today. I tend to think about these times a lot and feel very drawn to be as good as an OT as mine was to me,” Amelia explained.


Congratulations to all of our Awardees and Finalists!
You inspire us all!


2021 Hydrocephalus Association Scholarship Finalists

Emily Aarons Cameron Dibble Maralyn Lewis Colby Spence
Franchesca Abel Colin Drayer Madeline Matteucci Alexis Staggert
Noah Atherstone Jessica Fiser Brook Mavis Mariah Steury
Maya Bachmann-Delgado Nia Fox Jessica Mobley Michael Teeple
Caleb Backus Cierra Freeburg Farrah Montoya Anna Terranova
Maxim Barbier Tina Gamez Mason Muether Madison Thomason
Nelle Bargeron Graysen Gaylord Kathryn Murdoch Hunter Thompson
Nicholas Barnett Dylan Gomez Neal Kamari Audriunna Toliver
Isabelle Blatz Justin Gonzalez Svend Phillips John Traxler
Elizabeth Brumbaugh Crystal Gordon Alizabeth Rainer Macy Tyler
Luke Burroughs Adriana Halstead Kayla Ramos Nick Vargas
Brian Bush Nathan Held Morgan Rayhill Alison Viehmann
Tia Cale Madeline Hommel Emily Rowe Codi Viehmann
Sydney Case Zayne Hoover Maureen Ryan-Hoffman Jacob Wallace
Josh Cidila Essence Jeffreys Maurice Samuels Douglas Walsh
Kelly Cline Daniel Jones Caitlyn Sell Madeline Wilkinson
Megan Cullen Addison Kerbow Keegan Sluis Carly Zimmerman
Harley D’Amico Imani Lang Lindsey Smith
Debbie De Jesus Ashley Lesser Trenton Speer