#AJO Paying It Forward-in honor of Alyssa Josephine O’Neill

On Monday morning, my boss called me asking me if I had a chance to check #AJO on Instagram. I had been away from my phone the whole weekend, so I had no idea about what was going on Instagram or in the rest of the world, for that matter. The moment she told me what #AJO stands for and the story behind it, I almost busted into tears.

AJO stands for Alyssa Josephine O’Neill. Alyssa, an 18-year-old freshman at Penn State Behrend majoring in nursing, started suffering from epilepsy a year ago. On September 3rd, Alyssa went to her mom and told her she wanted to go to Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte. Unfortunately, the two never had a chance to go there because the day after,  Alyssa died after suffering an epileptic seizure in the shower.

Alyssa’s parents were able to transform this heartbreaking story into a story of hope and kindness. In honor of their daughter, they decided to buy lattes for strangers. It all started at the Millcreek Mall’s Starbucks in Erie, PA. The customers who ordered pumpkin spice latte, were told that the beverage was already paid for in memory of Alyssa.  In return, they were asked to pass the act of kindness on to someone else and to have #AJO written on their cups in purple, the color of epilepsy awareness. This is how the “Paying It Forward” phenomenon started. Up to today, #AJO has been tagged in over 13,000 photos on Instagram. The photos arrive from every part of the world, from Australia to South America. The Facebook page that was set up in Alyssa’s honor, AJO Forever in Our Hearts, has now over 9,000 fans. By the way, I really suggest you to take a look at it; it is beautiful and really touching.

I have no words to express how I feel about Alyssa’s story. She was only 18 and epilepsy suddenly took her away from her parents and friends. In an interview for Erie tv news, Alyssa’s father said: “There are not many other diseases where you can just be walking down the street, fall over… and possibly die.” I believe this summarizes exactly what epilepsy is about. I truly hope that Alyssa’s touching story will help epilepsy awareness to grow since, as I wrote in the past, most people don’t know how serious and life changing epilepsy is. And I also truly hope that all the donations I have been receving so far from my wonderful friends and family will in part contribute in finding a cure and finally putting an end to stories like Alyssa’s one.


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