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East Lake valedictorian goes to Harvard to study medicine and cure mom’s arthritis

Lorena Britton and her mother, Rosa, moved to Boston this month. It marked the fulfillment of a goal the teen set over a decade ago: to attend Harvard University.

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — Lorena Britton still remembers the moment she found out she would be attending her dream school.

“That was December 17,” the teen said. “That was just like the best day of my life. We got the news at 7 p.m. and I stayed up all night.”

The East Lake High School class of 2021 valedictorian only applied to one university. Attending Harvard had always been her goal since the day she came home from elementary school and asked her mother, Rosa, which school was the “best” in the nation. They even took a trip to Boston when Lorena was eight years old.

“We’ve had this mutual goal of getting there,” said Lorena. “It’s such a special place to be.”

Now, they both are there.

“I’m very proud,” said Rosa, whom her daughter describes as her biggest cheerleader. “So far, she hasn’t let me down.”

In mid-August, Lorena and Rosa packed up everything they owned and left Florida for Boston. It took four days to make the drive from the Sunshine State due to Rosa’s health issues. She’s been living with increasingly debilitating rheumatoid arthritis since she was 22 years old.

“Brushing my teeth is hard,” said Rosa, who emigrated from Venezuela knowing very little English two decades ago.

Lorena has been the caretaker for her mother for the last 8-10 years, helping with everyday tasks most able-bodied people take for granted. Her mother’s arthritis has gotten progressively worse.

That’s why Lorena chose Harvard.

“It’s mostly the reason I want to be a doctor to help people like her,” said Lorena. “I just love learning.”

Rheumatoid arthritis has attacked Rosa’s joints. She has limited mobility and is in constant pain. Lorena hopes her studies in regenerative biology at Harvard will lead to finding a breakthrough treatment or cure for her mother’s physical issues.

“It’s been attacking me very aggressively. I cannot use my hands. I keep my spirits up and try to do my best, be happy, and all I can do is pray to God to see my Lorena’s success,” said Rosa. “My life has been like a trial of fire.”

Classes begin on September 1 for Lorena. She is eager to get back to the classroom. For a decade she’s been dreaming of this day.

For herself, and her mother.

“With modern science and stem cells we can probably find a cure for my mom’s disease,” Lorena said. “We depend on each other.”

Lorena was awarded $2,000 from Achieva after the credit union heard about her story. Achieva has awarded $26,000 in scholarship funds this year, bringing its total to more than $200,000 in scholarships in the past 14 years.

Lorena plans to get a degree in developmental and regenerative biology.