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PHS student learns from top scientists

Reedsville teen takes part in national academy

KINGWOOD — Preston High junior Abbigail Lilly spent part of her summer vacation rubbing elbows with some of the nation’s premier scientists.   

Lilly, the daughter of Christina and Jason Lilly, of Reedsville, was a delegate to the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists Congress of Future Medical Leaders, in Boston. She is believed to be the second Preston High student to ever attend.

According to its website, “The Congress is an honors-only program designed to motivate and direct the top students in our country who aspire to be physicians or medical scientists, engineers or technologists and encourage them to stay true to their dream.”

Lilly has been dreaming big for a while. A junior in high school, she already earned one semester of college credit.

And she has her future planned: A major in forensic psychology, with double minors in a medical field related to nerve regeneration and history.

During the week, she attended several presentations and was able to watch a live surgery. The Nobel Prize winners and other top thinkers at the Congress only made her more determined.

“It widened my science spectrum,” Lilly said. “The most exciting thing that I got to experience there was just getting to see all these people. Nobel Prize people, like the best minds in science of our lifetime, that have come up with all these amazing things to help cure things.”

 Her favorite among those she met was Jack Andraka. She learned that when he was 15 years old, Andraka created a new diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer that is 28 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive and over 100 times more sensitive than current diagnostic tests. The test also works for ovarian and lung cancer.

It earned him first prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest pre-college science research competition. Andraka is studying at Stanford University and told Lilly if her research reaches a certain point, she can use his laboratory.

She also met patients who were among the first to try groundbreaking cures, like a woman who received one of the first face transplants.

“It just gave me so much determination to start my research project,” Lilly said. “I am wanting to work with nerve regeneration.”

Her interest in the subject has a personal origin. In 2017, a crushing injury caused her to lose the big toe on one foot and damaged the foot. She underwent extensive physical therapy to relearn how to walk, swim, drive, all things she took for granted before the injury.

She was told that whatever nerve regeneration she had within 12 to 18 months of the accident was the best she or anyone with nerve loss can hope for.

“I didn’t want to take that as an answer,” Lilly said.

 “I feel like everyone has something to do in the world. That we all have a reason, that God put us here for a reason, and I feel like my reason is he wanted me to find a better way to help fix nerve regeneration,” Lilly said.

 For college, she is deciding between Case Western and Tennessee University for her graduate studies, after finishing her bachelor’s at West Virginia University. When she applies, she will be able to contact some of the scientists, surgeons, even an Olympic gold medalist, for recommendations.

Last week she told the Preston County Board of Education about her trip.

“We are extremely proud of you,” Superintendent Steve Wotring said. “It will not surprise me one bit if one day we’re not sending kids to Boston to see you and what you do. I think you have an amazing future.”

  Board members Pam Feathers and Jack Keim asked Lilly to return to Preston County after she achieves her goals and inspire other students, “so that they can see Preston County can be proud.”