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Tick bite only briefly slows student on a mission to help others facing hardships

After battling three tick-borne diseases that she has

After battling three tick-borne diseases that she has called "a near-death experience," Patchogue native Caitlin Corrigan-Orosco, 20, has traveled the world helping others. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Four years ago, Caitlin Corrigan-Orosco  was laid up in a hospital bed, barely conscious while her internal organs struggled to function after she was bitten by a tick.

Since then, the peripatetic 20-year-old has traveled as far away as Alaska, Taiwan and India, taking on issues such as human trafficking and climate change as she pursues her own personal mission of shuttle diplomacy.

The Patchogue native capped off her world tour a month ago in Australia, where she delivered a paper on the plight of Tibetan refugees to a political science association.

Corrigan-Orosco — taking inspiration from her mother, Dawn Corrigan, who encouraged her to find her own unique path in life, her family's Unitarian Universalist faith, and the Dalai Lama, whom she met two years ago in India — said she is driven to help people facing hardships since recovering from her illness.

“I try to live my life to the fullest,” she said in an interview last week during a brief visit home. This week she returns to Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, where she is majoring in human rights studies, with a minor in English. She expects to graduate in 2019.

Corrigan-Orosco attended Patchogue-Medford public schools, but graduated in 2015 from an online high school program run by Stanford University. In July 2014, after participating in environmental research in Northern California, Corrigan-Orosco fell ill when she returned home. Doctors at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson diagnosed her with Lyme disease and two bacterial infections, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis, both of which can cause high fever and may be fatal if not treated immediately.

Dawn Corrigan, a former nurse, said her daughter's vital organs nearly shut down before antibiotics helped her recover. Corrigan-Orosco said she doesn't remember most of the weeks-long ordeal.

But she recovered quickly and by September she was an intern on environmentalist Adrienne Esposito's unsuccessful campaign to unseat State Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville).  Esposito, a Democrat, said Corrigan-Orosco opened mail, went door-to-door to speak with voters and was "extremely dependable" despite being among the campaign's youngest workers.

“She had a world interest and an interest in helping people on a global level that was unusual in a person that age,” said Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale. “I hope that she continues to change the world for the better. We need goodness in the world right now.”

In the past three years, Corrigan-Orosco studied Taiwanese art preservation in Taipei and worked for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

Corrigan, who also has a younger daughter, Amber, 14, said she taught her older daughter to forge her own journey, wherever it may lead.

“I just kind of gave her the freedom and I wanted her to find the right thing to do,” Corrigan said. “She’s in charge of her own life, and I’m just there to support her in whatever she chooses.”

Through Earlham's Tibetan Studies program, Corrigan-Orosco traveled to Dharamshala, India, the home base of the Tibetan government-in-exile, and went to Barcelona, Spain, to study how relocation affected Tibetan refugees who had moved there. On July 22, she presented a paper she wrote on that subject  at the International Political Science Association conference in Brisbane, Australia.

Also this summer she worked for the World Organisation Against Torture in Geneva. While at Earlham, she has developed a high school curriculum to use social media to combat white supremacy movements. 

Corrigan-Orosco said she has no specific career goals. For now she is looking forward to her next world adventure, whatever and wherever that may be.

“There are so many opportunities . . . for people to just take action to work with other people,” she said. “The question is not, How can I? You can. The question is, Why not?”  

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