STATESBORO — A group of friends have come together to honor the death of Leigh Sundem, MD, by creating a memorial fund on behalf of the Georgia Southern University Foundation, Inc.
Sundem, a former member of GS's Center for Addiction Recovery and 2012 summa cum laude graduate from the University Honors program at GS, died on April 14, 2020 by suicide.
Sundem had struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction beginning in middle school when she began using to cope with her depression and anxiety. After spending her 16th birthday in a juvenile detention facility and two years at an intensive addiciton treatment program, Sundem found herself wanting to pursue a medical degree.
Through college, Sundem found refuge in CAR and became one of the most well-known graduates from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, according to the GoFundMe. She then went to The University of Rochester School of Medicine and graduated from her program with the hope of becoming an orthepedic surgeon.
While in her third year of matching for residences, Sundem did not get matched despite her accomplishments and found herself hopeless, according to the GoFundMe. Missing out on other milestones like marriage and having children caused Sundem to feel isolated.
"Leigh's presence was larger than life and has left an emptiness in the hearts of those she left behind," Emily Eisenhart wrote. "She was a woman who never shied away from the truth of who she was and stood tall as the woman she had become--not the girl who made mistakes as a child. Most incredible of all was that she never turned down an opportunity to help anyone who needed hope that there was life after addiction."
It was Sundem's wish that her family and friends find a way to honor her death and be truthful about her life, according to the GoFundMe page. Eisenhart created the GoFundMe page along with friends Alaine Mills, Briley Blazo, Rachel Brisson and Stevie Sullivan.
The initial goal of the GoFundMe was $30,000 but is now $50,000 with a total of $32,111 raised as of 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
"That kind of endowment could make a much bigger difference in the lives of students who will follow in her footsteps of the road that she paved," Eisenhart wrote in an email.
The GoFundMe page can be accessed here. GS is also working on creating a permanent page on their website that people can visit to donate, according to Eisenhart.
Erin Finn was a med student with Sundem who donated to the fund.
"She was the smartest, funniest, loudest, most fun person to be around and a great soccer teammate," Finn wrote. "She was always so honest and open about her life and struggles which made her even more amazing."
The page included a quote from Sundem, which she and others shared in jails and prisons across the country, "If you work hard and stay focused on what you're passionate about there is a life waiting for you outside these walls that will be bigger and better than you ever could have imagined on your own. Never give up hope. When you're finally released, apply the same work ethic, the same focus, and the same passion into everything you do."
Sarah Smith, The George-Anne Managing News Editor, email@example.com