EastBay Today

Feature
Posted April 16, 2018

Isabel's Story

Cal State East Bay student Isabel Bueso continues to defy doctors' expectations and is graduating with honors this spring 

Cal State East Bay student Isabel Bueso’s life is busy.

If she’s not attending classes, she may be at Associated Students Inc. meetings serving as director of the Concord campus. Other days she may be addressing Make-a-Wish Foundation donors or planning Cal State East Bay’s Rare Disease Day. But on Fridays, she spends the majority of the day receiving a life-saving enzyme infusion regimen at Oakland Children’s Hospital.

As an infant, Bueso was diagnosed with mucopolysaccharidosis type VI, a rare genetic disease affecting one in 25,000 babies born that stunts growth and can lead to a variety of disabling side effects including vision loss. At the time she wasn’t expected to live past 7-years-old.

At 22, she’s exceeded the odds and while she uses a wheelchair and has a tracheostomy tube, her diagnosis isn’t holding her back. Instead, Bueso has immersed herself in life at Cal State East Bay over the past four years and will be crossing the stage with honors at graduation this summer earning a bachelor's degree in sociology with a minor in recreation.

 “It was hard to juggle,” Bueso admits. “Everyone warned me it would be too much strain. But I set a goal and I did it.”

Isabel Bueso was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease as an infant. This spring she graduates with honors from Cal State East Bay.
Garvin Tso

Million-dollar smile

Many Cal State East Bay students know Bueso through “Rare Disease Day,” an annual event held in February that she first brought to Concord campus three years ago. The fundraiser, now on both campuses, features a walkathon, information booths and lunch for participants. Funds raised go to another Bueso initiative, the Rare Disease Scholarship fund which is awarded to students with a disability. Last year, two $1,000 scholarships were awarded and this year thanks to increased student participation in the event, three qualifying students will receive $1,500 scholarships.

“Isabel certainly has made an impact by bringing this event to life,” said Pamela Baird, coordinator of accessibility services at the Concord campus. “We’re hoping that even after she graduates, her legacy will continue to fund this scholarship opportunity.”

Bueso has also made an impact on fellow ASI members.

“Isabel came in with her charisma and million-dollar smile and a list of all the things she wanted to bring to the campus,” said Tiffany Patterson, ASI’s vice president of university affairs. “It was easy to fall in love with her energy.”

As ASI director, Bueso is responsible for programming social and academic events tailored to student needs on the Concord campus. Among them this past year were professional development activities including a sock hope drive to encourage students to donate socks for the homeless, updating the university’s Relaxation Room, a career advisors day with advisors from the Hayward campus and a five-course, formal Etiquette Banquet Dinner.

“It’s the director’s responsibility to help students on both campuses to feel united,” said Patterson. “Isabel saw the need and made sure these events were successful.”

Making it work

Bueso credits her family for helping her maintain a positive outlook, despite the challenges she faced over the years. Originally from Guatemala City, Bueso’s parents brought her to the U.S. at a young age to seek experimental medical treatment for the MPS. But still, at age 13, she reached a turning point when a side effect of MPS left her paralyzed below the waist.

“It was a life changer I didn’t see it coming,” Bueso said.

As a result, she was homeschooled during seventh grade while recuperating from surgery and said the experience helped her mature quickly.

“My mom told me I have two options,” she said. “Either stay in my room and never go out. Or go out in the world and make it work in a different way.”

Bueso chose the latter.

Betsy Biern, CEO of Make-a-Wish Foundation, met Bueso when her organization granted her childhood wish to visit Disney World and said that infectious positive attitude is obvious to anyone who meets her.

“[Isabel] brings a sense of renewed sense of hope and joy to kids facing health setbacks and disabilities,” said Biern. “Today, she has grown into an accomplished young adult with options to do important things with her future.”

As for Bueso, as she looks toward graduation in a few months, she hopes to serve as an inspiration to others, especially students with disabilities.

“I’ve opened doors for any student with a disability or who is afraid to get involved,” she said. “I hope kids look at me and say, if she can do it, then so can I.” 

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