Maybe it was the moment her grandmother gave her a play medical kit as a child, or maybe the dream blossomed sometime later, but for as long as anyone can remember, Paulina Chiriboga wanted to be a doctor.
The 21-year-old Florida Atlantic University senior was closing in on her goal when she suddenly fell ill Jan. 19 and died four days later.
Chiriboga’s father, Carlos Lopez, said doctors told him his daughter suffered a brain aneurysm.
“They said it was a one-in-a-million chance that this could happen to a healthy young person,” Lopez said. “We were hoping for a recovery, but every day her organs were failing and there was nothing they could do.”
Chiriboga, who lived with Lopez and her mother Cristina Lopez in Lantana, graduated from Park Vista Community High School in unincorporated Lake Worth. She attended the school’s medical academy and was accepted by a handful of out-of-state colleges before deciding to stay close to family and friends by attending FAU. Her plans were to enroll in FAU’s medical school.
“She was a go-getter. Her mother taught her to be independent and that if you want something, you have to work for it,” Lopez said. “She never expected anything to just be given to her.”
Chiriboga was a member of the FAU chapter of Alpha Xi Delta and was active in raising money for autism research through Autism Speaks.
“Last night we lost a truly amazing sister and friend to all,” Alpha Xi Delta wrote in a tweet. “Your smile lit up the room and made anyone’s day better, Paulina.”
Lopez said his daughter was with friends on Jan. 19 in Boca Raton when she started to feel sick. They took her to Boca Raton Regional Hospital, which was just a few minutes drive from her friend’s apartment. She was conscious when she arrived, but by the time Lopez and his wife got there, she was in a coma.
The sorority held an event Sunday night at FAU to honor Chiriboga. Lopez and his wife planned to attend but decided on a more intimate memorial at their home.
“We told everyone to celebrate with their friends. My wife and I just took a walk on the beach,” Lopez said. “We did that because that’s what our daughter did and our healing process began with that stroll.”