Legacy Scholarship keeps future surgeon on right path

Even though she is from California, Elizabeth Brunke-Turner is at home attending Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Brunke-Turner, a sophomore studying molecular biology, envisions a career as a plastic surgeon so that she can help veterans, children and others. She was fortunate to receive enough financial support as a freshman to attend her “dream school.” Since funding is more limited for upper classmen, she would need other financial assistance to return to Johns Hopkins.

As a child of a 100 percent disabled veteran, Brunke-Turner was eligible for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship.

“I was amazed,” she said, describing the moment she learned she received the $20,000 scholarship. “I wasn’t expecting to receive it. When I learned I received the full amount, it made me very happy. It honestly made attending another year at Hopkins possible. Taking out a huge loan had been in the very near future.”

The scholarship is available to children of servicemembers who were killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and post 9/11 veterans who have a 50 percent or greater VA disability rating. The deadline to apply for the 2018-19 scholarship year is April 15. Applications and additional information can be found on the Legacy Scholarship web page.

Brunke-Turner’s father, Zekiel, has severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time as a military police officer with the Army in Iraq. “Finding out my father was 100 percent disabled was hard for me because he is fun and talkative,” she said. “But he has been private about the hard stuff in his life. I never realized how much he was struggling.”

About a year ago, Zekiel opened up to Elizabeth and admitted he was dealing with PTSD.

“It really impacts his life as far as work and family,” she said. “He has gotten better as he has attended programs. He said something about how he felt and it showed me that he was improving because of the fact that he was talking to me.”

Brunke-Turner draws inspiration from her father and others who commit to serving others.

“My father’s service, and other peoples’ service, has very much inspired me,” she said. “It’s not just about going out to dangerous parts of the world. It’s any kind of service that helps people is very commendable. That’s part of why I want to be a surgeon — that idea of helping people, even helping soldiers who have gone out and sacrificed their lives.”

The scholarship allows her to focus on studies and not have to work one or more part-time jobs. Instead, she is able to look for research jobs that will supplement her education or volunteer opportunities that will allow her to give back.

“The American Legion scholarship definitely keeps me on track as far as being able to continue on to graduate school and achieve my dream of becoming a surgeon.”

Brunke-Turner is quick to acknowledge those who raised money and donated toward the Legacy Scholarship Fund.

“Seeing how they have helped my father and helped me, I am very grateful,” she said. “It’s amazing to be so selfless. More people should follow that path. Thank you and keep up the good work.” www.legion.org/donate

Such generosity and selflessness is motivating for Brunke-Turner to give back. She has volunteered for various public health organizations around Baltimore.

“What comes around goes around,” she says. “Recently I have become interested in giving back to the community, especially in services and groups that help people struggling with their mental and/or physical health.”

It’s an extension of her career path that formed when she was a child. She became interested in the medical field after reading stories about children, veterans, terrorist victims and others who became physically disabled.

“I want to become a plastic surgeon to help them after that, that is why I chose plastic surgery specifically,” noting she met a friend of her father who is a surgeon. “He talked with me about what he was doing and it was amazing. So I thought it would be really cool to go into plastic surgery.”

In addition to drawing inspiration from her father and others, Brunke-Turner has an elegant tattoo on her wrists, the Latin phrase Nisi Mors.

“It means ‘except death.’ Obviously everybody dies and it’s a reminder to me that I should make the most of my life and I shouldn’t let anything stop me. Only death can stop me.”