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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Stonington High senior boasts an impressive resume after brain surgery

    Katya Snegovskikh returns the ball with her teammate Lauren Buckley, in the background, during their ECC and girls' double tennis final against Stonington’s Angelina Williams and Gwen McGugan on Wednesday, May 22, 2024 at Stonington High School. (Dana Jensen/The Day).
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    Stonington ― When Stonington High School senior Ekaterina “Katya” Snegovskikh had brain surgery two years ago, she faced it with the same determination she has put into her other substantial achievements.

    “I’m just super focused. When I have a task to do, I give it my all. It’s just the way I am, I guess,” Snegovskikh said with a shrug late last month.

    Today, the driven 17-year-old can speak eloquently about being part of a champion tennis team, a concert pianist, a published medical researcher and a community service volunteer graduating in the top ten of her class -- in four languages.

    During the summer before her junior year, Snegovskikh underwent surgery to remove a rapidly growing cyst on her brain. The surgery involved a large incision, skull reconstruction and moving numerous facial muscles. The surgery left Snegovskikh struggling with simple daily activities such as eating.

    “That was definitely really difficult. When other kids were out working, or out having fun on the beach, or just studying for the SAT, I was bedridden, and trying to recover, and trying to eat and walk and take care of myself,” she said in late May.

    Doctors have given her a clean bill of health, but the recovery was long and exhausting due to the massive amounts of muscle Snegovskikh said she lost while stuck in bed and recovering the strength required to move her jaw and eat.

    She said that, though she became easily winded and tired easily, she managed to return to school. But her return to tennis the following spring was not as easy, physically or mentally.

    “I had to basically regrow all the muscles,” she said.

    “Part of playing doubles is being up at the net with people hitting tennis balls at your face. I definitely had a fear and a mental block that I had to overcome,” she added.

    She didn’t just overcome her fears and return to the court, as the high school girl’s tennis team went on to make it to the final rounds of the state tournament.

    This year, the team won the state championship as Snegovskikh and her partner won all of their matches.

    She said one positive that came out of the experience was that being stuck in bed recuperating gave her a lot of time to focus on her distance research internship with Brown University.

    Snegovskikh staved off boredom and frustration by staring at images of human ovaries and egg follicles to determine if there was a causal relationship between women with either of two breast cancer genes and the quality and quantity of the eggs they produced.

    “I couldn’t do anything, but I could get my laptop out and analyze these images,” she said.

    In the summer or 2023, Snegovskikh worked as a research assistant — this time in a lab at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where she studied the urine of pregnant women to see if hormone levels could be used to predict preeclampsia, a condition that affects up to 8% of pregnant women. It causes high blood pressure, which can result in serious complications including maternal and fetal death.

    Snegovskikh found the answer to both research questions was yes, and she traveled last October to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine Conference, where fellow researchers presented the paper she co-authored on the first study. When the research paper on her second study is complete, she will also be named as a co-author.

    After graduation, Snegovskikh will spend her summer working on a third research study in Chicago before heading off to University of North Carolina’s honors college.

    She is the child of two very driven doctors who emigrated from Russia, who learned English and then earned their U.S. medical licenses, so it is unsurprising that Snegovskikh has aspirations to go into medicine herself, and has focused on that goal.

    Though she already spoke Russian and English fluently, Snegovskikh took up Spanish as a freshman, achieving her certificate of biliteracy this year.

    She said her mother, a reproductive endocrinologist, taught her to be a strong patient advocate, which requires being able to communicate effectively. She explained that that Spanish fluency will help her provide the best care to her future patients, many of whom may speak Spanish.

    She didn’t stop with Spanish. Snegovskikh also holds certificates of biliteracy in French and Russian and is a member of the school’s French, Spanish and National Honor societies.

    Her laser focus on medicine has not stopped her from achieving in other areas though.

    Last summer, she received her diploma from a private piano school in Massachusetts, and recently competed in the Steinway Society of Massachusetts Piano Competition.

    Despite all of her overwhelming accomplishments, her teachers, coaches and administrators describe Snegovskikh as a humble and kind young woman who never takes her opportunities for granted.

    “She is the complete package,” said high school English teacher Melissa Kwan.

    Kwan, who was Snegovskikh’s homebase teacher for four years and her dual-enrollment University of Connecticut English teacher this year, was unaware of her student’s role in such significant research until very recently.

    “It blew me away because she is so humble she hadn’t been bragging about it or telling anyone,” she said.

    “She is just a delight to know on a personal level,” she said.

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