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Elizabeth DeSanto

At the University of Minnesota, junior Elizabeth DeSanto has found a major that she truly loves and new hope for life.

Resilient student finds new life at U

Elizabeth DeSanto rebounds from loss of mother and Hurricane Katrina ordeal

By Bob San

Sept. 1, 2006

It was late August, 2005. Elizabeth DeSanto, now a junior kinesiology major at the University of Minnesota, had just arrived at Loyola University in New Orleans and was looking forward to starting the fall semester. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, and DeSanto's world was hurled into chaos.

"I was just setting up my apartment," DeSanto recalls. "Before I knew it I had to evacuate."

It's one year later and DeSanto still remembers vividly the catastrophic events that hit New Orleans when Katrina blasted the Big Easy and the levies broke.

"I was there for five days and we were told to evacuate, she says. "We had to go to Tennessee and I remember the highways were all backed up."

Loyola University was located far from the most severely flooded area and was spared from massive damage. But the university decided to close.

"All the businesses were closed and a lot of the teachers and people who work at the university lost their homes," DeSanto says. "We were told that the university would be closed for a while."

As it turned out, Loyola canceled the entire fall semester.

For DeSanto, Hurricane Katrina was the second devastating event to happen to her in one year. In August 2004, she lost her mother to cancer.

"I did not attend college the fall semester of 2004 due to my mother's diagnosis of cancer and death shortly thereafter," DeSanto says. "This not only set me back a semester but, as one can only imagine, caused my world to be turned upside down."

The tragic loss caused DeSanto to lose focus on her studies. She returned to college for the spring semester of 2005 questioning her declared major in psychology. She decided a move to Loyola would give her a fresh perspective on life and it was where she wanted to continue her college education. Katrina, however, threw another obstacle into DeSanto's path as she tried to return her life back to normal.

"I was pretty devastated," DeSanto says. "It was the one university I really wanted to attend. It's a small Jesuit school in warm weather. I was looking forward to studying there another semester."

When she found out that Loyola would be closed for fall semester, DeSanto did not want to wait around for it to reopen. Already back home in Minneapolis, she decided to enroll at the University of Minnesota.

"[Elizabeth] has been a wonderful example to me, her sisters and others of great character when life is difficult," says her father, Will DeSanto.

"I was back [in Minneapolis] on a Wednesday and by the following Wednesday I was in class at the U," DeSanto says. "The U really catered to us. They waived the application process, gave us discounts on books and helped people with housing."

This quick and unexpected change from a small southern school to a large university left DeSanto flustered and stressed in her first semester at the U, but she was soon to find new hope. In the 2006 spring semester she talked with professors in the kinesiology program and discovered a growing interest in the physiology of the human body. As a result, she finally has found a major that she truly loves.

"I was a gymnast for 13 years, and I am fascinated by the study of the human body in its relationship to daily physiological functioning and to sports performance," she says. "I hope to work with both athletes and non-athletes in the field of physical therapy."

After two turbulent years, DeSanto finally has a clear path ahead of her. She plans to graduate with a bachelor of science in kinesiology and then pursue a doctoral graduate degree in physical therapy.

No one is more proud of Elizabeth's strength in overcoming two traumatic setbacks than her dad.

"Elizabeth and my other two daughters are remarkable young ladies who have gone through much in their life, especially with the death of my wife and their mother," says Will DeSanto. "By the grace of God they have all continued to pursue excellence in their studies. Elizabeth has probably been the one [who] has had several life situations that could have brought her away from continuing her education and desire to live life well. She has been a wonderful example to me, her sisters and others of great character when life is difficult."