Pledging to be strong: How one Kent State student’s sorority has rallied around its sister



Nicole Winkleman

Olivia Campbell is a sophomore double majoring in health care administration and health services at Kent State. Alongside the heavy workload that comes with being a double major, she is a member of Delta Gamma sorority.

Like any 22-year-old college student, Campbell leads an eventful life. However, in the backdrop of philanthropy events with Delta Gamma and homework is the cloud of Emery-Dreifuss, a form of muscular dystrophy that Campbell has dealt with for most of her life.

Campbell said Delta Gamma has had a tangible impact on her physical health.

“Last semester I was always in my wheelchair,” Campbell said. “Since the beginning of this semester I have not used my wheelchair once other than just to go to class. Delta Gamma has helped make me so much stronger.”

Muscular dystrophy is the degeneration of muscles over time. Almost all cases get worse and depending on the type, it can be a fatal disorder.

The disease is considered progressive, which means it could attack the body at any time. Different types of muscular dystrophy progress faster than others and cause different problems for the body. Campbell’s form involves the muscles tightening, rather than the complete wasting away of muscles.

Campbell said when she was young she was mostly on track with other children, but her disease was noticeable at times.

“There were certain things (that made me different),” said Campbell. “I was kind of wobbly here and there.”

Campbell was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 7.

“When I was first diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, I think I was honestly relieved to know what the problem was,” Campbell said. “I was constantly having tests done, and I was sick of it. I was 7 years old, and I just wanted to be out on the playground.”

The realization for Campbell at age 7 was scary, but she said it was hard for her to really understand what it meant to have muscular dystrophy. Doctors were unable to figure out which form of the disease Campbell had until she was 13 years old.

“The fear was much worse when I found out which form I had,” Campbell said. “The biggest problem with Emery-Dreifuss is heart conditions — a lot of people have to have heart transplants.”

There are changes in Campbell’s heart functions, but the changes aren’t serious for now.

Doctors say Campbell is doing OK — unless she has any major problems, they only need to see her every two years, and Campbell is grateful for not having to constantly be in and out of the hospital.

To meet other people and share experiences, Campbell went to the Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camp at Camp Cheerful, in Strongsville, Ohio, for 11 years. The Camp provides children with the opportunity to participate in a wide range of activities.

The activities are designed especially for young people who have limited mobility, or use a wheelchair. The relaxed atmosphere of the camp encourages campers to develop lifelong friendships, share interests and build self-confidence.

“It changed my entire life and outlook. Part of it was just being around people who had it so much worse than me,” Campbell said. “It’s hard to be down on my situation when I am surrounded by all these beautiful people who are just so happy and grateful for every day.”

Campbell said she also has her mom and younger siblings to be thankful for and to help her through the hard times. “I’ve always thanked God that it’s me, and not my younger siblings.”

“When I was younger I used to ask my mom, ‘Why me?’” Campbell said. “She always said, ‘Because you’re strong as hell and you can.’”

Although her family and sorority have been an important support system, one of her closest friends, Jacob Schwarber, a student at Villanova University, has stuck by her side.

“Each day presents challenges and she has taken them in stride and not allowed them to affect how she lives her life,” Schwarber said. “She is one of the most courageous people I have ever met. She has inspired me in so many ways, most of which, she is probably not aware. I honestly don’t know how someone could deal with having a disease like MD as well as Olivia has.”

Schwarber continuously watches Olivia fight her muscular dystrophy and said he is honored to be her friend.

“She has been an outstanding ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and while she quietly deals with the issues MD presents her, she has been a tremendous activist for trying to find a cure. She knows all too well the rigorous effects it has and wants desperately to keep it from affecting anyone else,” said Schwarber. “She is a true fighter and I am honored to consider her one of my closest friends.”

Campbell said Delta Gamma, which has more than 120 girls, has played an important role in her health.

“The sorority has honestly changed my life,” said Campbell. “I’ve never experienced such pride, happiness and joy just from being a part of something.”

Campbell said that Delta Gamma has made her stronger and given her the poise to do things she may have not done before.

“I would have never had the confidence to go into a store, and go shopping with girls and have to worry about having a wheelchair with me,” said Campbell. “Things like absolutely would not have happened before. The girls have helped me so incredibly much.”

Campbell knows that she can’t be best friends with all of the 120 members of Delta Gamma, but she knows that they are all there for each other, no matter the circumstances.

Campbell has even inspired a lot of her friends to do good and stay strong — even in tough times.

Sarah Northcott, sophomore pathology major and one of Campbell’s sorority sisters, has been able to watch her grow during her time in Delta Gamma.

“Even in the short amount of time I’ve known her I’ve seen her grow into such an independent woman,” Northcott said. “Olivia is the strongest person I know, and she only continues to grow stronger every day.”

Northcott said she is proud to know Campbell and has learned a lot about perseverance from her sorority sister.

“Learning about Olivia and her past history with MD, I’m in awe over it all,” said Northcott. “To go through what she has and have the constant positive, ambitious, and outgoing attitude toward life and her future is beyond commendable. I am so proud to call her my friend and my sister.”

<!– Contact Nicole Winkleman at #. –>