Over one billion people in the world are living with a disability. That makes individuals with disabilities the largest minority in the world.
As I explained in a previous blog post, I was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease a few days before my freshman year of college. Needless to say, the first couple years of school were NOT what I had dreamt them to be.
I think I can vouch for any college student living with a disease or disability: you feel like a complete outsider. Trying to make friends can feel nearly impossible, especially if you’re consistently being asked questions like, “why aren’t you drinking” or “why is your face so puffy?” All we want is to feel like we fit in.
Shannon Strader knows this feeling exactly. Since her freshman year, she felt alone, listening to her friends having a good time while she was stuck in bed with excruciating body pain. She spent 19 years urinating blood, vomiting from pain, and not being able to eat or sleep without hurting. After years of doctors telling her there was nothing wrong with her and that she was too “dramatic,” Shannon connected with a nephrologist that found something unusual: her renal vein was behind her aorta instead of in front where it should be. It was being compressed by her spinal cord and aorta, causing internal bleeding, congestion and little blood circulation throughout her body. If you ask me, that’s not being dramatic! Shannon underwent three surgeries to fix the troubles this rare kidney disease was giving her; not to mention the surgeries were the first of their kind.
Shannon suffered through all of this, as well as losing a best friend, her twin sister, Lauryn. At 20 days old, Lauryn contracted meningitis and was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. These series of events led Shannon to create Bella Soul, the first nonprofit in the world to support individuals, mentally and financially, living with physical disability or illness as well as chronic/terminal illnesses in college. Her vision was above and beyond the average 19 year old’s; not many people can say they started a nonprofit org at age 21! Shannon is the real Superwoman, and I am so grateful and proud to have been by her side throughout this process.
People always say they understand what you’re going through, but they never will until they’ve experienced it first hand. That’s why Bella Soul is so powerful; not only does the organization provide scholarships to students battling tuition and medical bills, it serves as therapy and helps those around you better understand what you deal with everyday.
I hope Bella Soul changes students’ lives just like it did for me. Shannon should be commended for all of her hard work, bravery and passion she consistently puts into this wonderful 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization. I can’t thank her enough for trusting me and making me the Vice President of her team. I’ve enjoyed watching Bella Soul grow into the wonderful organization it is today, and I can’t wait to watch it continually grow and influence others as it has influenced me.