A college student making a new life in the United States after Hurricane Maria is studying media to advocate for patients with multiple sclerosis.
Vilmarie Ocasio is just 19 years old and already knows what it means to be a survivor.
Last fall, Hurricane Maria tore through her neighborhood in Puerto Rico. Ocasio remembers the fear her family felt during the storm.
“Just seeing that this was the actual first time that a hurricane of that magnitude hit the island, it was really difficult to just find a way to recover that fast because no one knew how hard it was going to be. That hurricane caught us by surprise,” Ocasio said.
Her family was forced to leave the island to seek medical treatment for Ocasio’s mother, who has multiple sclerosis. She said it took nearly six months for her mother to be back on her regular medications following the Hurricane.
In the four years since her mother’s diagnosis, Ocasio has worked to raise awareness about the autoimmune disease through the Girl Scouts. She has received national and international awards for her work to create a nonprofit organization. Her efforts have even helped to pass a law in Puerto Rico to create a registry for people with multiple sclerosis.
Ocasio said her goal is to provide support for families still learning about the disease.
“I know it’s really hard. I know it’s like long nights, just thinking of what’s going to go next and especially if you don’t know the condition,” Ocasio said.
Her nonprofit has allowed Ocasio to connect with thousands of MS patient advocates internationally through social media.
Her family has been staying in South Carolina since Hurricane Maria. Ocasio recently moved to Central Florida to live with relatives for the summer and participate in a production internship at News 6.
“I saw it as a big opportunity because it’s for growth as a young woman, and I can see what other opportunities are in the media field,” Ocasio said. “I was one of the chosen ones, and I end up here at News 6.”