Teen perseveres to win scholarship
By Teen perseveres to win scholarship
Jul 12, 2011 - 5:58 AM

Greenwich, CT - On June 12, 2007, Ezra Grossman, Greenwich, woke up, got ready for work and left to catch the Metro North train to Grand Central Station, just as he had so many times before. Twice a month Grossman would travel into the city to meet with the venture capital group he consulted with. It had become part of his routine.

He disembarked as planned and stepped onto the long escalator ascending to the Met Life building. Toward the top, Grossman began to lose his balance, as he often did. This was part of the routine. Grossman has multiple sclerosis.

But this particular day Grossman couldn’t recover sufficiently and tumbled backward down the escalator, his body bounding down the sharp-metal steps all the way to the bottom. Although he was in a great deal of pain, Grossman convinced EMT’s that he didn’t need to go to the hospital. He went to his meeting. He kept his routine.

Of course when he told his wife Jane part of the story upon returning to the Greenwich station, she immediately drove him to the doctor. After some X-rays the doctor referred them to an orthopedic group. A specialist there confirmed that Ezra had sustained a broken collarbone and three cracked ribs, to go along with several cuts and a large bump on his head. The specialist suggested that Ezra wait 10 days to see if surgery was needed.

The next day, at a friend’s suggestion, they saw another specialist at a satellite office for the Hospital for Special Surgery in Greenwich. This second specialist, after reviewing his own X-rays, said it was one of the worst breaks that he had ever seen in his career. Ezra had five separate breaks in his collarbone. The specialist suggested surgery, which had its own complications due to Ezra’s MS.

However, the surgery was performed and Ezra was essentially housebound for eight weeks. He still has a plate and five screws in his shoulder. Ezra now conducts his meetings over the phone.

Strong species are defined by their ability to adapt to a changing environment. This rings true for the Grossman family, who certainly are not strangers to overcoming adversity or making sacrifices for one another.

Ezra and Jane have two daughters—Leah, 24, and Sydny, 18. For Sydny, being sick was what she knew. She jokingly referred to her school nurse as her best friend from elementary school to middle school. She also struggled in the classroom from a combination of often being absent and having what she referred to as a “foggy mind.” Constantly adding to the frustration was the fact that Sydny had no answer as to why.

After many rounds of testing and numerous visits to different doctors, in December, 2007,

Sydny was officially diagnosed with Celiac disease, which is an intolerance to gluten and wheat.

“When I found out I had celiac disease my world crumbled,” said Sydny, a recent graduate of Greenwich High School. “Everything upset my stomach—and not only that, but I had sensory disorders where certain sounds and feels would upset me and put me off in the weirdest way. The foods I was supposed to eat didn’t feel right in my mouth, and almost made me sick on how they felt. I didn’t know what to eat anymore.”

But in true Grossman fashion, Sydny refused to quit. She slowly integrated the new foods into her diet, which now mainly consists of vegetables, and the oddest thing happened—she started to like them; and suddenly school wasn’t so hard anymore.

“Once I started eating differently, it was an entire 180,” said Sydny, who adheres to a strict diet. “Things got so much easier.”

It helps that Sydny has her mother Jane at home, who cooks fresh and organic foods for her every day. According to Ezra, she is the “best cook in the world. No, seriously.”

“Sydny didn’t realize how sick she was until she eliminated these foods from her diet,” said Jane, who along with being Ezra’s primary caretaker is studying to become a holistic health coach. “Once she got accustomed to her new diet, she was like ‘wow, I feel a lot better.’”

As if Ezra’s MS and Sydny’s celiac disease weren’t enough for the Grossman’s to deal with, a fire destroyed their home in July, 2006. Sydny recalled being at sleep-away camp at the time, and the day prior she had called her parents, begging them to let her come home. Luckily, they convinced her to stick it out for the rest of the session and see if her attitude changed. After the fire, Ezra and Jane drove out to the camp with Leah, who had just returned from a study abroad program in Spain, and broke the news to Sydny. Their home, their pets, and almost all of their treasured possessions, were gone.

But still, the Grossman’s would not quit. They fought on.

Leah continued to attend college and now works in Washington D.C. in the advocacy department for Save the Children, helping children in need all around the world.

Sydny is a recent graduate of Greenwich High School, and even with all of the circumstances surrounding her, maintained an A average. Beyond school she volunteered two to three hours each weekend at her local Adopt-a-Dog clinic, is active at her Temple, and worked as an administrative assistant at a local law office, as well as assisting her mother Jane in caring for her father Ezra. She now works as a hostess at a local restaurant.

Because of her strength and perseverance, the National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter, chose Sydny as one of this year’s recipients of a college scholarship funded by the Hayley’s Hope and Michaela’s Miracle MS Memorial Fund. The memorial endowment fund, started by the Petit family in July 2007 after the tragic loss of Jennifer, Hayley, and Michaela, continues their work, providing for the more than 6,000 Connecticut residents and their families living with multiple sclerosis. In addition to other vital programs, interest from the fund makes available scholarship for college freshman who either have multiple sclerosis or have a parent with MS.

Sydny was awarded her scholarship along with nine other outstanding students on Thursday, June 9, at the Farmington Country Club. Severe thunderstorms pounded the area that night scattering tree branches and creating traffic nightmares, but naturally the Grossman’s braved the conditions and made the trip from Greenwich to attend the reception. Jane and Ezra beamed with pride as their daughter received her scholarship from Dr. William Petit Jr. and Connecticut Chapter president, Lisa Gerrol. Sydny then thanked them in front of the audience for allowing her to be who she wants to be, demonstrating her unique disposition.

Her high school guidance counselor Lisa Sporre describes her as “a gentle leader.” She is both shy and engaging. Sydny will attend American University in Washington D.C. near her sister, and hopes to become a cultural anthropologist, which she described as “a mix of all that I’ve learned and yet to learn pasted together with real life experience”

After lengthy insurance battles stemming from the fire and several moves, the Grossman’s have started preparing for the next steps in their lives. Ezra, who suspected he had MS as early as 1973 but was not officially diagnosed until the 1990’s, now uses a cane when he walks. He no longer ventures into the city, but continues to consult from home with Jane there to assist him.

Because of Ezra’s physical limitations, normal activities like going to the movies or out to dinner present their own challenges. So the Grossman’s continue to make adjustments until the new level becomes their new normal. They call ahead to find out what floor the movie is on, and if necessary, make sure they can use the elevator. They make sure restaurants are handicap accessible in all aspects. They adapt. They’re strong. It’s their routine.

“The abnormal aspects of MS have become what is normal to me,” said Sydny. “It has brought challenges and gifts and because of it I have learned to not take anything for granted.”

More than 6,000 Connecticut residents are affected by multiple sclerosis, a potentially debilitating disease affecting the central nervous system. The cause is unknown and, as a result, there is currently no cure for MS. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness in the limbs, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness, loss of mobility and, in some more sever cases, total paralysis. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted.

Scholarship applications for the 2012 school year will be available online in October. For more information on MS or for additional information on 2012 scholarship criteria, please contact the Connecticut Chapter at 860-913-2550 or visit

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