Jeff Moehlis: Ryan Fitch to Attend Redwood SEED Fellowship Program at UC Davis | Culture & Leisure


“What a difference a year makes.” Melissa Fitch talks about the journey that took her son, Ryan, from emergency brain surgery to admission to the first inclusive 4-year college program in the state of California.

In May 2020, Ryan’s speech suddenly fell apart. A few days later, when Ryan noticed that “my hands are funny” and his family saw his face sagging, they called a neurologist.

A quick MRI at Cottage Hospital – at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, “the worst possible time to enter any hospital” – led to the diagnosis of a rare cerebral artery disease called moyamoya.

Ryan Fitch won a $ 2,500 art grant for his photography from the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.  (Photo credit: )
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Ryan Fitch won a $ 2,500 art grant for his photography from the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara. (Photo credit:) (Courtesy of the Fitch family)

It is one in a million diseases, but it is more common in people with Down Syndrome, like Ryan.

They released Ryan from Cottage Hospital on June 3, and a few days later went to Stanford Hospital for specialist treatment, where they learned Ryan was only getting 60% of the normal blood flow to his brain. At Stanford, Dr. Gary Steinberg restored blood flow with a two-part arterial bypass surgery on June 23 and 30.

Ryan was lucky; he had only suffered a minor stroke, with no lasting effects. Typically, moyamoya is not diagnosed until a massive stroke has occurred.

Ryan “never complained about anything” during this ordeal, Melissa said.

“He was amazing. [But] the recovery has been the scariest thing to go through, let alone going through it during COVID, ”she said.

Fortunately, Ryan’s quick recovery got him to start his senior year at Dos Pueblos High School as planned. He worked hard while pursuing activities he enjoyed such as taking pictures at football games and training with the swim team. He graduated from high school – a rarity for children with Down syndrome – in June 2021.

In mid-May of this year, applications were opened for the SEED Sequoia Researchers Program at UC Davis, a new program designed for students with intellectual disabilities.

Exactly one year after his second brain surgery, Ryan learned he was one of 12 students admitted to the program’s inaugural class. Ryan and the other students will live in the dorms and go through a specialized program aimed at enabling them to work and be self-sufficient, and will include paid internship opportunities and self-advocacy opportunities for inclusion.

Students will also have the option of taking any courses they want on campus.

“This is what you always dream of, that your child is able to continue and participate in a successful life, to be independent, to have an education,” said Melissa.

She’s very proud and excited for Ryan, but a little nervous, just like a familiar feeling for parents who send their kids to college.

Financially, she noted, “When you have a child with Down’s syndrome, do you have a college fund? No, not usually.

She is grateful to Ryan for receiving a $ 2,500 art grant for his photographs of the Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation. But since this year is the first year of the Redwood SEED Scholars program, the tradition FAFSA / Pell grant funding is not available and most scholarship deadlines have long passed.

Melissa is spearheading an effort to create a scholarship fund for this program, while, in parallel, UC Davis strives to secure continued public funding. They hope this program will serve as a model for similar programs at other California universities.

Ryan himself is “super excited” to go to UC Davis. And, as he has done all his life, he will seize the opportunities that arise. He’s already looking forward to starting bowling at the university’s underground bowling alley, and continuing his photography and songwriting work.

And he’s willing to do whatever it takes to be successful in the program. Melissa describes it as “the epitome of perseverance. He never gives up.”

As his run last year showed, that’s no exaggeration.

More information about the Redwood SEED scholarship program is available here.

A useful resource for exploring options for inclusive higher education for people with intellectual disabilities can be found here.

If you are interested in learning more about ways to help Ryan and other students participate in the Redwood SEED Scholarship Program, contact Melissa Fitch at [email protected] .

– Jeff Moehlis is a contributing writer for Noozhawk and professor of mechanical engineering at University of Santa Barbara. Recommendations of upcoming shows, musicians advice, interviews and more are available on his website, The opinions expressed are his own.


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