Student copes with chronic illness on campus

The burdens of the average Tech student seem to be great, but most cope with their curriculum sufficiently.

However, with the number of sick students on campus climbing daily, health concerns are often replacing academic ones, leaving many students struggling with the choice between attendance and wellness.

This choice is not easy, and it is one faced by many students that are experiencing difficult health problems every day.

Students with chronic illnesses work not just to complete their schoolwork but also to meet their personal health needs.

“My spring break my sophomore year I was getting diagnosed with Lyme Disease in North Carolina,” said Lyndsay Sweeney, a 4th Year MSE.

Lyme disease is caused by a tick bite that could easily go unnoticed.

Lyme disease traditionally presents with a red, bulls-eye shaped rash, although there are many atypical presentations of the disease.

When Sweeney approached doctors about her condition, which seemed flu-like, they led her in the wrong direction.

“I went to see upwards of ten doctors before I got diagnosed. Every single one of them said you don’t have lyme disease. They said I was a girl who was young and when to hard school and I couldn’t deal with it. They said I needed to see a psychiatrist and that it was all in my head.”

By the time Sweeney was diagnosed, the chance to cure the disease had already passed.

If the tick bite is discovered within the first thirty days, which is most easily distinguished by a common bull’s eye ring, the disease can be wiped from the bloodstream.

However, the disease can manifest itself into various tissues after a certain period has passed and then disease is more difficult to cure.

The tissues that can be affected usually include connective, brain and heart tissue.

Lyme disease has settled in all of the above tissues in Sweeney’s case.

“In the later stages [of the disease], you get arthritis in your joints, cognitive dysfunction, psychiatric problems, heart problems, and you can die from it if you don’t treat it,” said Sweeney.

The problems for Sweeney as a result are not few.

The main problem with the diagnosis of Lyme disease is that it is stuck in a dichotomy over its chronic essence.

Many in the medical profession state that the disease is not chronic, but Sweeney claims otherwise.

“Some people don’t believe there is a chronic illness with Lyme disease, but I’m living proof there is,” Sweeney said. As a result of this controversy, the treatment is elusive and difficult to come by.

“Because of the dichotomy of it being chronic or not, you get screwed out of getting proper treatment, which you have to pay for by yourself,” said Sweeney.

Since her treatment requires other parties than those covered by her insurance, she and her family are forced to pay for it out of their pockets.

As a Tech student, the condition becomes more frustrating.

“My college experience is not what I thought it would be because of being sick. I devote the time I’m feeling healthy to doing schoolwork, whereas most others can work whenever they need to,” Sweeney said.

Of course, her treatment requires her to excuse herself from class and general schoolwork, and much of the ignorance around Lyme disease does not help.

“No one has ever heard of what I have here. I get to do a lot of explaining about why I have this thing on my arm. People don’t understand why I have to miss out on class.”

Sweeney continues to outline her predicament, especially over professors who are unwilling to cater to her medical condition.

“I’ve had extreme difficulty with people being able to understand with what’s happening. I’ve straight up had professors not follow up with ADAPTS policies,” Sweeney said.

The ADAPTS program (Access Disabled Assistance Programs for Tech Students) exists to enforce Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, both of which are federal mandates to aid students with disabilities and illness.

Many know about ADAPTS through the note taking system or through extended exam hours offered for participating students. ADAPTS also provides registration assistance, academic adjustments, special-format textbooks, accessible parking and coordination with faculty to help students cope with special needs. Students catered to by the ADAPTS services range from students with learning disabilities to students with chronic disease or mobility impairment.

“I ended up in the hospital, missing out on a test, and the professor wouldn’t let me take it. So I had to retroactively drop from the class. It’s pushing back my graduating date, with being sick and professors not willing to cooperate,” Sweeney said.

Students with medical or personal emergencies such as car accidents can work with the Dean of Students to contact professors to verify absences.

Students can call the Dean of Students office or fill out a request for assistance form found at www.deanofstudents.gatech.edu for assistance

Though her sickness is a hindrance to her academic career, Sweeney has adapted to her life with Lyme disease.

She provides herself with intravenous (IV) medication and drives to South Carolina to receive treatment and further diagnose her condition.

She has also turned this setback in her life into a positive cause.

“If I can prevent any other person to go through what I went through, that’ll make me happy. I work with advocacy groups and awareness groups, and try to get funding to make those things happen.”

Sweeney has advice for other students with chronic illness at Tech.

“Just know that other people are out there with similar situations, even if you think you’re the only one without it. Just stay positive about it, because that’ll make it all go a lot smoother,” Sweeney said.