An Unimaginable Life Becomes Reality

Michael DeBourg II portrait

Daniel P. Smith


12 May 22

Michael DeBourg II DDS ’22 overcomes personal loss, a chronic disease and the specter of low expectations to craft a fulfilling life.

AFTER HIS FATHER PASSED AWAY in 2007 from pancreatic cancer, Michael DeBourg II went soul searching.

The first in his immediate family to earn a high school degree, the then-21-year-old DeBourg had settled into life as an audio engineer in his hometown of Miami, Fla. He struggled with self-confidence and a disease — sickle cell anemia — that sapped his energy and required frequent hospital stays. He felt locked into a life lacking purpose and fulfillment.

“I asked myself what I was really doing to reach my fullest potential,” DeBourg recalls. 

Untapped Potential


Though few around DeBourg touted the value of higher education, DeBourg nevertheless enrolled in a local community college on a journey of self-discovery. There, he fell in love with biology classes and completed a two-year associate degree program in biology in one year. 

“I discovered I had this untapped potential,” DeBourg says. “It became a contest with myself to see what else I could achieve.”

At the University of Florida, DeBourg graduated summa cum laude while majoring in molecular and cellular neurobiology, a wild turn for the former middling high school student. A medical relief trip to Ghana with Heal the World, meanwhile, intensified DeBourg’s interest in patient care and ignited an earnest desire to see more of the world. He spent nearly four years teaching English in South Korea, where he also met his fiancée, Seoyeon.

Drawn to the surgical aspect of medicine and working with his hands to bring a direct and positive change to patients’ lives, DeBourg decided to pursue dentistry and arrived at Ostrow in 2018 eager and enthusiastic.

“I finally thought I had a clear plan and everything would be fine,” he says.

Accustomed to Setbacks

But DeBourg knows life isn’t always so tidy. The stamina-testing impacts of his sickle cell disease wore on him as did the multi-layered effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and his mother’s diagnosis with kidney cancer in 2021. By the time DeBourg entered his final year at Ostrow, he felt drained, discouraged and defeated. 

With Seoyeon’s encouragement, however, DeBourg found a renewed sense of purpose, balance and perspective, reminding himself he was resilient and adaptable — and had more to achieve. His Ostrow graduation serves as a testament to his perseverance and determined spirit.

“I am so accustomed to having setbacks, that I’ve learned to accept them and find a way forward,” DeBourg says. “That’s what I did here, too.”

Fifteen years ago, DeBourg seemed resigned to a pedestrian life far short of his potential. Today, the 35-year-old looks into an energized future with confidence and optimism. 

There’s a wedding to Seoyeon on the horizon, refreshed hope in his mother’s health following a recent surgery and an upcoming move to Fresno, Calif., where DeBourg will start a general practice residency at Community Regional Medical Center. 

In the coming years, he hopes to land an orthodontics residency and pursue research around increasing access to orthodontic care in underserved communities.

“This is nothing I ever could have imagined,” DeBourg says, “but I’m sure glad this is where I am.”

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