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U of A engineering student wins $5,000 scholarship

Demetrius Kuc, who struggles with Crohn's is one of 15 Canadians in 2022 to receive an AbbVie IBD Scholarship
University of Alberta engineering student Demetrius Kuc is the recipient of an AbbVie IBD Scholarship, an organization that has partnered with Crohn's and Colitis Canada. SELAH REFLECTIONS

Just like every Canadian post-secondary student, Demetrius Kuc looks for ways to ease his financial burden and this year his efforts paid off.

The St. Albert resident is one of 15 Canadian students to receive a $5,000 scholarship from the AbbVie IBD Scholarship Program. 

Kuc has struggled with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) since he was about to enter Grade 6 at École Marie Poburan. He is one of 300,000 Canadians affected by this chronic disease that attacks healthy tissue in the bowels causing severe abdominal pian, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, internal bleeding and an urgent need to use the washroom. 

Inflammatory bowel disease is disruptive and debilitating, and often a person’s ability to attend class or work to support tuition and other educational costs is severely compromised. The scholarship fund steps in to provide financial support for deserving students.  

“The scholarship people called me early in the morning. I was sleepy, but it sure woke me up,” he laughs. “I really didn’t think I’d get it. This was the second time I tried, and I don’t have dramatic IBD.” 

As a civil engineering student at the University of Alberta, the price tag for his education is nearly $10,000 per academic year. 

“It takes its toll mentally and I’ve been lucky to have parents that have helped,” said Kuc. His main goal was to remove the financial load from his parents now supporting two children in post-secondary education. 

Although IBD usually strikes between the ages of 15 and 35, Kuc was 12 years old hiking with family in Jasper’s Maligne Canyon when Crohn’s disease attacked. 

“I felt stomach pain like I’ve never felt before. I couldn’t attribute it to anything, and I knew something was fishy. My parents thought I had a stomach ache. But when we went out to eat, it got worse. It felt as if my stomach was in a vise grip and tightened, and held at its limit. I forced food down and it came back out.” 

“I threw up and went to the Jasper hospital. They suspected my appendix ruptured, but the surgeon had gone fishing and they couldn’t do it. I was sent by ambulance to Edmonton and to the Stollery. At first, they accepted it was my appendix, but then one doctor took an ultrasound. Thank God, he realized it wasn’t that.” 

Kuc was hospitalized for two weeks undergoing various procedures including a colonoscopy. 

“At a certain point the colonoscopy showed the opening of my intestine was as big as the tip of a pen. I was quickly put on steroids and a meal replacement which continued for eight months after I was released. My lunch kit at school consisted of three identical replacement packages that were like a milkshake.” 

“I still remember laying in the hospital bed watching TV and an advertisement with hamburgers would come on and I’d start crying.” 

Today the pain and intestinal flares are minimal due to infusions of Remicade, a highly efficient drug allowing many IBD patients to go into remission. 

The 2020 St. Albert Catholic High graduate is currently working at ARKK Engineering as part of the university’s co-op program. Here students supplement their regular academic coursework with 12 months of full-time work before graduating. At ARKK, Kuc works in water resources dealing with drainage, floods, reclamation and environmental services. 

In looking back at his life, he describes himself as a curious, bookish kid whose family and Ukrainian cultural heritage shaped who he is today. 

“Classical music (is) my thing. No matter what I do, I keep falling back on it,” Kuc said. His favourite composer is Tchaikovsky.  

“Tchaikovsky has these big orchestral works that always get to me. They’re the perfect blend of classical and romantic music. My favourite piece is the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6.” 

A man of many talents, Kuc started playing the piano at around age three of four, a passion that transitioned into joining the Edmonton based Vohon Ukrainian Dance Ensemble. A few years ago, he danced in Ignite, a production that was performed regionally and in Ukraine. 

“It’s worth it to me. Whatever pain comes, it’s worth it. It’s like the piano. It’s classic art. There’s beauty and perfection in it. I’m a solid dancer and I’m looking forward to learning more.” 

Within the last year, he injured his right hand and playing the piano has its limitations. Instead of turning his back on the instrument, the fan of performance art now teaches others to play the ivories with the sublime joy he revels in. 

During our conversation, Kuc emphasized living a life of balance and equal parts. Not only is he hoping his degree will help sustain the world, but is also looking to build deeper relationships with art and culture to sustain himself.  

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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