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Inspired by life’s obstacles, freshman pursues future helping others

Baby Taylor Zimelman next to a stuffed animal

Zimelman pictured as a baby.

November 19, 2018

“If you put your problems in a bag, would you take your own or someone else’s?”

That’s the question freshman student Taylor Zimelman’s parents asked her growing up, and that’s the question she continues to ask herself when times get tough.

Zimelman has experienced no shortage of tough times. She was born five weeks premature, weighing only 3 pounds, 4 ounces. She had two holes in her heart, problems with her kidney and was diagnosed with cytomegalovirus. Her first three months of life were spent in the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“There were days when the doctors didn’t think I would make it,” she said. “They told my parents that I may not walk and that I would have a lot of trouble doing normal daily activities.”

But she did make it. The next six years included “grueling” physical, occupational and gross motor therapies to help correct developmental delays from her months in the hospital.

Zimelman has had eight surgeries in total over the years including open heart surgery, three ear surgeries and two arm surgeries — due to a broken arm in fifth grade.

In spite of the complications that have occurred in her short life thus far, Zimelman exudes positivity and determination. She is studying family and human development in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics and has plans to minor in dance.

“The main reason why I chose to come to Arizona State University was my major. I thought this was the best place to attend because when I visited, Stacie Foster, director of undergraduate programs at the Sanford School, showed me around and let me see the college students interacting with the children (at the Child Development Lab). I knew that day that family and human development was the major for me and ASU was the place for me to study it.”

The Sun Devil pride she experienced, combined with the resort-like feel of campus, helped influence her decision as well, she said.

In the months since arriving, Zimelman has joined a number of university groups and organizations including Best Buddies (which she was involved in all four years of high school), ASU Hillel, Alpha Gamma Delta sorority and Dance Undergraduate Organization Support. She said she has also benefited from the resources on campus, including meeting with her first-year success coach and university tutoring. In short, she’s taking advantage of much of what the university has to offer.

 pictured today

Taylor Zimelman

“I love people and connecting to others,” she said.

Zimelman’s desire to connect with others and pursue a career in therapy was cemented around age 13 when she was tasked with completing a “mitzvah project” prior to her bat mitzvah. For her project, she created and collected baby caps for the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“I knew then and there that I wanted to do something to help kids be who they want to be,” she said. “For years, I’ve wanted to be a therapist because I wanted to give back to all the people who have helped me in life and pay it forward to the kids who have problems like I did.”

Zimelman said she’s thankful for everything that has happened so far in her life and that the surgeries and obstacles she encountered have made her who she is today. 

“I wouldn’t be where I am today and I love where I am today: A freshman at ASU (studying) family and human development, loving life, being in clubs and organizations and trying to be the best I can,” she said.

For students facing hard times, she advises staying positive, even when it seems hard.

“I believe that life doesn’t give you problems that you can’t handle. You will get through hard times if you understand what’s happening, get the help you need and are determined to get through it,” she said. “Life does have a lot of rough patches but somehow you’ll succeed. Never lose your spark and try to be as positive as you can.”

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