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News : Health Jun 23, 2011 - 8:58 AM

Yale University student makes the grade in compassion

By Liz Slater, National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter Intern

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Throughout his life, Yale University student Michael Maruca believed that he was someone on whom his family and friends could count. But when his roommate unexpectedly took his own life, Maruca realized how out of touch he really was. The loss of his friend caused Maruca, 22, to re-examine his relationships with those for whom he cared the most. He was determined to turn heartbreak into something positive.

“The experience changed the way I relate to people,” said Maruca who recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy, “I want to know more about the people around me. I want to talk to them more, be more available and more emotionally receptive to those I love.”

Maruca was raised in the nation’s capitol, but spent his high school years in Exeter, N.H., while attending Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding high school. He later made his way to southern Connecticut to begin his collegiate experience in New Haven.

He quickly met many people on campus, including Sam Miles who lived in the same building and later became his friend.

“My first impression of Mike was that he was wild; his self-imposed course of study was ridiculous,” said Miles, who eventually became his roommate. “Some semesters, he’d take as many courses as the dean would let him. Other times he would take two different languages at the same time; and really hard ones to learn, like Arabic and Hindi.”

A full course load at school didn’t allow Maruca a lot of time for other pursuits. However, after the sudden death of his roommate he turned his once limited free-time, into quality time with friends. It was during this time Maruca’s strength helped friends get through the grieving process.

“Mike is now extremely conscious of those around him, and, more than most, probably felt that he was in some way responsible for not sensing something and doing something before it was too late,” remembered Miles, who describes Maruca as noble and loyal. “It was Mike, however, more than anyone else, who helped us heal. His ability to put us at ease while talking about the loss made it much easier to unburden ourselves, saying the painful things that needed to be unearthed putting it all to rest. I think the strength of his character emerged during the ordeal, whether he realizes this or not. For the rest of us, it was obvious.”

When Maruca began to spend more time truly bonding with those around him, he learned that another close friend, Emily Sigman, was dealing with a difficult issue. A family member has been battling the effects of multiple sclerosis for 23 years. In fact the disease has progressed so much, that her loved one has been confined to a bed for 15 years. This moved Maruca to action.

He decided to run in the Shires of Vermont Marathon in Bennington, Vt., with a friend. He set a fundraising goal of $1,200 to benefit multiple sclerosis and immediately began pounding the pavement asking friends and family to support him.

In early June Maruca accomplished his dream; completing a marathon before graduating Yale. He also raised $213 more than he anticipated.

When Emily learned about Maruca’s generosity she was overwhelmed with gratitude.

“Michael is a kind, sincere and thoughtful person,” said Sigman, who believes that MS is a misunderstood disease. “He cares deeply for others.”

More than 6,000 Connecticut residents live with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness and tingling in the limbs, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness, extreme fatigue, loss of mobility and, in more severe cases, total paralysis. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted. Currently, there is no cure for multiple sclerosis.

Maruca said he enjoyed the marathon experience. However, practicing in New Haven did not prepare him for the hills of Bennington. He struggled, but managed to finish the 26.2 mile course, despite the rain and challenging rolling hills.

According to Sam Miles, Maruca is no stranger to competition. He said that his buddy holds the 9th highest record in Ms. PacMan.

For Maruca, competition is more than the challenge. When it comes to running, it’s relational.

“I enjoy running not only for the physical aspect of it, but running with family or friends gives us time to talk,” explained Maruca, who was a Division I squash athlete. “This opens the opportunity to be more involved in their lives.”

This year Maruca realized important goals, but his future is uncertain. He is on the waiting list for a master’s degree program at Oxford University in Oxford, England, and mentioned that he may join the Peace Corps. Whatever the future holds, Maruca desires to make an impact in the lives of people around him.

Funds raised through supporters, like Maruca, ensure ongoing research to find better treatments and a cure for multiple sclerosis. These funds provide for the continuation of vital programs and services offered by the National MS Society to people with MS living in Connecticut.

For more information on multiple sclerosis, its effects or the many ways to get involved and make a difference, visit

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