Wednesday, August 5, 2020 In My Own Words: Kirsten Wandrey
Kirsten Wandrey is a sophomore journalism major in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. In spring 2019 - prior to enrolling at the university - she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that dramatically changed her life. In her own words, Kirsten shares details about her successful transition to living on-campus at UNL and finding community and connections to help her achieve.
As I took my first steps onto campus in August 2019, there was so much I looked forward to: meeting new friends, freedom to live on my own, exciting classes and a new city to explore. However, there was also a major worry clouding my thoughts, “How will I be able to live here with my Crohn’s Disease?” You see, I had been through a life-changing diagnosis only five months earlier, toward the end of my senior year of high school. I had just barely begun learning how to live with an autoimmune disease that affects so many aspects of how I live each day, and yet here I was once again moving to an entirely new phase in my life.
Anyone will tell you there are lots of unknowns when you move away to college for the first time, but for me there was an extra set of worries. Would I be able to eat anything in the dining halls? What if I couldn’t physically to go to classes? Would others be understanding of my needs? What if I had to be hospitalized?
In simple terms, Crohn’s Disease is defined as a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines, especially the colon and ileum, associated with ulcers and fistulae, or abnormal passages between two organs.
My worries were relieved, though, once I discovered the numerous resources on campus for students with concerns similar to my own.
Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) was the most instrumental resource in resolving my concerns about attending college. With the help of the SSD Office, I was able to build a customized accommodation plan outlining how to make college work for me. With attendance flexibility, alternate testing capabilities and priority registration, I didn’t fear upsetting my professors or falling behind in classes. There were even additional scholarships I could apply to, including the L. R. Menebroker Scholarship and the Riley M. Tidball Scholarship, among others. The amazing staff working in this office consistently reach out and are always available for meetings.
Eating in the dining halls was another early worry for me about living on campus. I didn’t know if there’d be enough foods I could eat or how each hall handled dietary restrictions. Soon, though, I found each dining hall has lots of varying options and I could always find something to eat. The dining hall staff is extremely accommodating and friendly about any dietary needs, including gluten- and dairy- free, or any other possibility that may arise. Each location also has feedback cards to keep in tune with the current needs of students.
Once winter and flu season began, I became more concerned about my health. I knew that even a cold or light cough could quickly turn for the worse and linger for months, but luckily the University Health Center made it super easy to book appointments and pick up medications right at the pharmacy. I never had to wait long before appointments or to fill a prescription. The staff always took into consideration all my health issues whenever I was sick and were quick to prescribe medications that would help my weak immune system fight infections.
Eventually, my entire list of worries subsided. I had found the on-campus resources to take care of myself and realized how much trust I could have in others.
Even this past semester, though, a whole new set of questions plagued me. When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread, a heightened set of concerns began to worry me as an immune-compromised individual. I couldn't be around large crowds or classes. I couldn't be around other students who might have been exposed to the virus. My sphere of day-to-day interactions was becoming smaller than the average student.
My professors were extremely accommodating, and everyone was willing to be flexible in such unique times. Even before campus closed down, the faculty and staff were looking out for everyone’s health and safety. I’ll always be grateful the university made the right call for at-risk people like myself.
Now, I look back and see I really had a fulfilling freshman year. I had great roommates, met many new faces, joined Greek life and found extracurriculars I love. There were lots of people making it their priority to ensure that I would have a normal, happy year. These on-campus helpers made it so I could be treated as any other student, even with a serious health condition.