Champaign teen has distinguished herself
CHAMPAIGN — With math and science being her favorite subjects, it's not surprising that Ranija Turner is considering a career in medicine.
The 17-year-old from Champaign has already spent more time in hospitals than most teens because her father has suffered from a debilitating heart condition for the last 10 years.
Having seen him survive — indeed, thrive — since a January heart transplant, Turner feels certain medicine will be in her future.
"I just thought everything was interesting about how your body works in general. That's what made me want to go into medicine. I plan to become a pediatrician and eventually have my own practice," said the self-confident Turner, this year's recipient of the Young Woman of Distinction honor from the Girl Scouts of Central Illinois.
Turner will be one of six women honored Thursday at a banquet at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign.
The others are Laura Weis of Savoy, Annette Lansford of Champaign, Molly Delaney of Paxton, Cindy Feeney of Champaign, and Christina McClelland of Urbana.
For 22 years, Girl Scouts of Central Illinois has recognized outstanding women for their contributions to their communities and for being role models to young women.
Turner is a junior at Central High School where she is a cheerleader, a member of student council, National Honor Society, African-American Club, peer mediation, peer jury and Generation Next, an after-school program where members do homework and other extracurricular activities. She also runs track.
She played basketball freshman year but gave it up when she made the cheerleading squad as a sophomore. She was a Girl Scout in grade school.
Asked when she sleeps, Turner deadpanned: "I don't."
The oldest of four children of Devon and Donyetta Turner, Ranija Turner was nominated for the award by a fellow member of the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on North Sixth Street in Champaign.
She called her selection "interesting." Her parents were a bit more effusive.
"I was really excited about it," said her mother. "She's been very talented since about the third grade. She's been super-involved and always willing to help, always a leader. I knew she was going to be a good girl."
Donyetta Turner, 36, said her daughter is "always helping out with homework with her siblings. She'll explain things and try to get them to understand. She is a good role model."
Devon Turner, 38, called the award for his daughter "out of the blue."
"I didn't have any idea anybody had nominated her," said the proud papa.
Devon Turner can be forgiven if he's been a bit preoccupied. Hospitalized for about half of 2012 with a deteriorating heart, the elder Turner was blessed with a heart transplant on Jan. 7 after being on the transplant list exactly 10 months.
"It's considered really fast," he said of the process of finding the correct match. "From going to Loyola Hospital, I would see people who had been on the list five to six years."
Donyetta Turner said she was somewhat surprised by her daughter's choice of profession.
"When she was about 1 or 2, she was very mean. I never thought she would want to deal with children," she said, laughing. "I think she has her head on right and she's going in the right direction."
Her mother believes that Ranija seeing her father get a new heart has also stimulated her interest in medicine for children. For more than half of Ranija's life, he's had cardiomyopathy but it took a turn for the worse about five years ago.
Having made multiple trips to Loyola for her dad's treatment, she's put Harvard on a back burner as far as her first choice for college. Her mother said she'll likely go where the scholarship offers are most lucrative, but she's interested in University of Illinois, UI Chicago and Loyola University Chicago.
Ranija's Girl Scout award is just the icing on the cake for the Turner family.
"It's been a rough year but we hung in there and we're getting our blessings now," said Donyetta Turner.