Thursday, June 20, 2024

Whitefish senior uses personal experience in pursuing medicine

Daily Inter Lake | May 28, 2024 12:00 AM

When Brooke Osburn was a freshman, a long-lasting nosebleed sent her to the emergency room. To be safe, doctors ran tests and immediately flew her to Spokane.

Diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Osburn’s kidneys had stopped functioning. It would begin a more-than-year journey of undergoing two different types of dialysis while she waited for a kidney transplant. 

“I was in the ER and then an ambulance and then at the airport,” the Whitefish High School senior said. “The uncertainty of not knowing what was happening was scary. The disease had destroyed my kidneys in a matter of days to weeks.” 

She had Goodpasture syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body mistakenly makes antibodies that in Osburn’s case attacked her kidneys. It's a disease that can be fatal if not quickly treated.

Eventually, Osburn received two types of dialysis — one that was performed in the hospital in Seattle and another that took place at home so she was able to go to school and carry on with her life. 

“Looking back, it’s amazing the stuff I could do,” she said. “I skied 50-plus days and went hiking. All the things I still love to do. It kept me going until I could get a transplant.”

Then after undergoing myriad tests, her mother Jennifer donated her kidney. 

“My mom gave me her kidney,” Osburn said. “It’s the best gift I’ve ever received.”

Osburn said her mother, father Ben, and younger brother Dylan were “incredible” throughout the ordeal. Jennifer is a pharmacy informaticist at Logan Health and Ben is a pharmacist at Logan Health Whitefish. 

After receiving the kidney within a few hours, Osburn’s blood work began to normalize, she said, proving how “phenomenal the human body is.” Still, the recovery was extensive as she spent her junior year working to get her strength back.

Osburn has lived in the Flathead Valley since before beginning kindergarten. After spending several months in Seattle in the hospital she grew to admire the Pacific Northwest. 

Knowing she wanted to return, she plans to head off to college this fall at Oregon State University. And while early in high school she had an interest in studying medicine, her personal experience has increased that desire. Majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, she is on a pre-medicine track.

“I’m not sure where I want to do in medicine, but I know I want to go into medicine,” she said. “I feel like I had such a unique experience. The human body is just crazy cool and I love figuring out how things work. There’s so much we know but still so much that we don’t know.” 

She has an interest in studying nephrology, which is a specialty within international medicine related to the study of kidneys, specifically normal kidney function and kidney disease. 

“I think maybe I could use my personal experience someday,” she said. “I might even be interested in pursuing pediatric nephrology. Maybe I’ll come back to the Flathead Valley. I do wonder what it would have been like for me if there had been a pediatric neurologist here when I got sick.” 

During high school, Osburn’s primary focus has been as a member of the Leo Club, which is a service-oriented club associated with the Lions Club International. The club went by the wayside a few years ago but returned last school year, and this year Osburn led the club as president. 

“I fell in love with the act of volunteering and the club let me take that to new levels,” she said. “We’ve taken the club to new levels and added more events that have been more successful.” 

Damian Estrada, Whitefish High School teacher and the club’s advisor said Osburn brings a light-hearted and inviting spirit to the club and has been an incredible leader and takes on tasks with integrity.  

“Brooke is special for so many reasons and in so many ways,” he said. “Brooke is a sincere, kind, organized and thoughtful student. She is inquisitive, realistic and takes others' ideas into consideration. She takes time to think of everyone and has the initiative to get the job done correctly.”

Volunteering one’s own time for the betterment of the community with nothing expected in return takes a level of selflessness, Estrada added.

“Brooke embodies this level of leadership,” he said. “She is a good person and her commitment is unquestionable. We'll miss her but know that she'll succeed wherever she goes and whatever she decides to do.”

The club has picked up litter and written cards for seniors living in retirement homes at Thanksgiving. The Leo Club also organizes the Kiddie Carnival held during Whitefish Winter Carnival. 

“I love being involved in the community,” she said. “It was so great delivering the Thanksgiving cards to the retirement homes and seeing how grateful people were for something they didn’t know was coming. It was neat to see genuine smiles on their faces.” 

The club held a food drive collecting 1,000 pounds of food that was donated in part to North Valley Food Bank and also the PAWS Pantry, a food bank directly for high school students located at the school. 

“Volunteering is something I intend to carry throughout my life,” she said. 

Whitefish High School holds its commencement ceremony for the Class of 2024 on Saturday, June 1 at 1 p.m. at the high school gym. 

Deputy Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or