Invisible Disabilities: Conditions you might not notice

Catrena BoylanPhoto courtesy of Nancy Urchak.

Justine Stump

More than 80 percent of students registered with Student Accessibility Services have hidden disabilities, said associate director Amy Quillin.

If you met Catrena Boylan, you might see a free-spirited girl with an eclectic style and fondness for Hello Kitty — not a girl with diabetes.

Boylan, junior fashion design major, said she was a ballerina when she was younger, so she is used to the competition she now faces in the fashion world.

She said she doesn’t think her diabetes puts her at a disadvantage.

Boylan said the biggest challenge is keeping her blood sugar in-check. Sometimes she has trouble focusing, but it’s nothing she can’t fix in 15 to 20 minutes.

“I was in a pre-professional ballet company, and that was hard because if my blood sugar was low, I couldn’t do anything,” she said. “So I always have to have food with me.”

Boylan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 12. Type 2 is adult-onset; type 1 is found in children and is not curable.

“Sixth grade is that year when you make all your friends, and weirdly, I was friends with all the popular kids,” she said. “I didn’t want to tell people at first that I had diabetes — like I had some plague. But I like the way I am now. I mean, I don’t like being diabetic, but it’s just a part of me now.”

Boylan said she usually keeps her diabetes in check, but two summers ago, her blood sugar dropped scary low. She said when she went to bed it was 70, normal, and it dropped down to 42 while she was sleeping.

“I didn’t wake up,” she said. “They had to call the emergency room, and an ambulance came.”

She said her everyday life isn’t that different from anyone else. She wears a pump now that gives her insulin every hour, and when she eats she has to keep track of how many carbohydrates she eats.

“I am 21, so I am allowed to drink, but I just have to be careful,” she said. “I take my stuff with me to the bar and I check my blood sugar every time I have a drink.”

Boylan isn’t letting her diabetes slow her down. This January she said she is excited to be moving to New York to participate in Kent State’s fashion program.

If Chad Coy passed you on his way to class, you might notice his bulky backpack and shy manner, but you wouldn’t guess that he has a learning disability.

Coy is a senior in credits, but he won’t be graduating any time soon. Initially he was a recreation management major but decided to take some time off from school. When he returns next semester, he will be an exploratory major because he decided recreation management wasn’t for him.

Coy, 28, has a learning disability.

“It has to do with different processes of learning,” he said. “When a child is born, part of their brain is not developed fully, and it’s not always diagnosed right away. It all depends on when the family realizes there is an issue.”

Coy has said he was in elementary school when he was diagnosed.

“There are things like comprehending information that I struggle with,” he said. “For instance, let’s say, following instructions.”

Assistance for students

Students with documented conditions can register with Student Accessibility Services even if they don’t need academic assistance. SAS will discuss what assistance a student is eligible for, but there is no obligation to use any of the resources.

When building something like a piece of furniture, Coy said he wants to do it himself, but he finds it difficult to understand the directions and gets “really frustrated.”

He was nervous when he came to college.

“With new experiences, I’m at times uneasy,” he said. “Part of me says, ‘I do want to’, but it’s just that fear of experiencing something new and knowing I’m probably going to struggle at it.”

Coy said Student Accessibility Services has provided him with tutors and the help that he needs.

“They work with the instructor to determine what a person needs to even-out the playing field,” he said.

Despite challenges, he has never thought about quitting school.

“Over time I have adjusted that this is who I am,” he said. “At times I wish I didn’t have a disability, but I have come to accept that it’s a part of who I am.”

Gary Hume

Hume could not be contacted for a photo.

If you knew Gary Hume three years ago, you wouldn’t recognize him today. He is fifty pounds lighter and many years wiser; you wouldn’t know it’s because he almost lost his life.

Hume got married at 19, and he expected marriage to change his life. What he didn’t expect was the life-changing news he would receive after his honeymoon.

Hume had a routine doctor’s appointment scheduled for when he returned. Afterwards, he went to his parents’ home and was watching TV when his doctor called.

“That doctor told me I needed to go to the emergency room,” he said. “He told me that my kidneys were failing.”

The doctors told Hume that he had a general kidney failing progressive disease. It wasn’t hereditary, but they couldn’t tell him why he had it.

“From when I first found out until I had the surgery was probably the biggest diet change,” Hume said. “There was a huge list of foods that I couldn’t eat. I lost, from that point, almost 50 pounds.”

Hume said he was immediately put on a donor list, but he also had a lot of people volunteer to be potential donors.

“I’m the youngest of five,” Hume said. “So all my sisters and brothers stepped up and even people outside of my family came out to be tested.”

The doctors first tested blood types. Hume said he is type O, which is a common blood type. He had four matches; His brother, sister, brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

Next was tissue typing, and Hume said the doctors were shocked to find the same people were all matches. He left the final decision up to the doctors. They picked his brother-in-law, Joe.

“My brother-in-law pushed most out of my whole family to be the donor because he felt like he was the most financially stable as well as physically fit,” he said.

The transplant surgery was in July.

Hume said he didn’t feel nervous before the surgery.

“I don’t know why,” Hume said. “I wasn’t stressed out about anything, except maybe money. I couldn’t work; only my wife could work. At the time she was working at Giant Eagle to pay for both of us and an apartment and all that stuff.”

Hume, a sophomore pre-accounting major, hasn’t let the surgery affect his schoolwork. In fact, his illness has pushed him to graduate sooner because he said he knows life is too short to waste time.

“Everything happened so fast; you don’t realize that you take life for granted,” Hume said. “That’s why I want to finish school so fast. Me and (my wife) Melissa’s perspectives have changed. We want to start having kids earlier now and doing other things earlier then we were initially planning on. Life is too short to waste any time.”

Contact Justine Stump at [email protected].