Leo Hayes High graduate excels in the face of adversity

Article Posted: Friday, June 07, 2019

​Abigail Cartwright is a brave, young woman on a mission. She graduates from Leo Hayes High School this year with a long list of achievements under her belt, despite her personal struggle with serious health issues.

When she started high school, Cartwright was an athlete who planned many sports. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a group of disorders that affects connective tissues supporting the skin, bones, blood vessels, and many other organs and tissues. It presents as a wide range of symptoms, ranging from mildly loose joints to life-threatening complications. 

"She did not let this stand in her way," said Vice-Principal Natalie Capson-Daniels. "She decided to find new things to do with her time, and joined the Science Club, Free the Children, and Best Buddies. In Grade 10, she became a Peer Mentor and took on a leadership role in both Peer Mentors and Best Buddies. In September 2018, she was chosen as one of four LHHS students to attend the Canadian Leadership Conference in Alberta. This summer, she will be travelling to Ecuador to help build a school and has been helping to raise he money to make this initiative happen."

Cartwright has also had an active role for the last two years in the New Brunswick Youth Voice Committee. This committee focuses on the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Article 19, which states that “you have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, in body or mind. " She ​has also assisted in training other young people, developing resources, and working on strategies to keep children safe in New Brunswick and has presented to UNICEF on behalf of Canada on strategies for youth safety.

"This is an impressive resume for anyone, but knowing what Abby had to overcome everyday makes it even more extraordinary," Capson-Daniels explained. 

At the start of Grade 10, Cartwright's health began to decline rapidly. By the start of Grade 11, her right arm became useless and would constantly dislocate with her hips and knees soon following suit. She was told that she needed to start water therapy, or she would be confined to a wheelchair. She had an operation on her right shoulder to stabilize it during exam week of Grade 11. Some nerves were damaged in her neck and she was unable to swallow or talk, and was told that she would need a feeding tube. She worked hard to overcome this. Six months later, she had to have multiple surgeries on the same shoulder as it dislocated many times and she would need to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance and sedated in order to relocate it.

Cartwright is now set to graduate with the ability to use both arms and muscle gain in her hips. She completed a dual credit program at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), completing a first year computer science course this year. She has been accepted into the engineering program at UNB and plans to attend McGill University after that to obtain a degree in biomedical engineering. Her goal is to one day return to UNB as a professor and create prosthetics.