The life of a college student has always been filled with challenges. Today, the added challenge of navigating college through a pandemic has become a difficult reality. In the case of Catherine Wheat, ’25, the added challenge of having type one diabetes, Hashimoto’s disease and Addison’s disease have become a big part of her college story.
Early in January, Wheat’s roommate Annabella Zgurzynski, ’25, was a few feet away when Wheat suffered a grand mal seizure caused by low blood sugar. At the time, Wheat was unaware of having Addison’s disease and had been suffering from adrenal insufficiency for months. Following the incident, Zgurzynski decided to start a GoFundMe for her roommate to pay for a diabetic alert dog.
“We realized how serious her condition was and the experience created a lot of anxiety around going to sleep because it happened while she was sleeping,” Zgurzynski said. “She can’t just have 24/7 care to alert her in her sleep but a (diabetic alert dog) would be able to alert her of her blood sugar and provide a sense of security. I think a DAD would give her a sense of autonomy.”
Leading up to the creation of the fundraiser, Zgurzynski and Wheat were struggling to talk about the experience they had together. The GoFundMewas an opportunity for them to process.
“We hadn’t really talked about it since it happened,” Zgurzynski said. “We were riding an emotional wave when I went into writing our story because that whole experience was like a trauma bond. It really brought us together and we were just holding each other wondering what to do because nobody should feel this way.”
Wheat shared how the event has affected her emotionally and the challenges she wants to overcome to be able to continue being a college student. According to Wheat, returning back home is not what she wants to do now that she has experienced independence in college.
“I want to live a normal life,” Wheat said. “You feel like something has been stripped from you after you go through something traumatic. What am I supposed to do now? I don’t want to put this responsibility on someone else, but if I have this dog it can give me the independence to be on my own.”
According to Wheat, she had considered getting a DAD but her financial background has not made that feasible in the past. With the support she has received from the fundraiser, the possibility of obtaining a DAD could become more realistic.
“Coming to a small liberal art school, all these people care for me and want to help me,” Wheat said. “You just feel so blessed and cared for. I was flabbergasted by the amount of support and just love and care that I received.”
With all the support Wheat received, her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, has become a part of her ability to return to a sense of normalcy and belonging at college. AXO member Catherine Wallace, ’25, shared how the sorority has supported Wheat.
“(The sorority sisters have) been really accommodating and were accommodating when she had to miss recruitment and everything,” Wallace said. “They have all reached out and put money in to get her flowers and have them sent to Texas. We all care for her and there are no lengths we won’t go to make sure she’s gonna be okay.”
Since the seizure, the bonds Wheat had formed strengthened and her support system has widened. Wheat enthusiastically encourages Zgurzynski to share how the experience they had has given her the confidence to continue pursuing a pre-med track.
“The night before (Wheat) had her seizure, I told her I thought she had Addison’s disease then she had her seizure and when they did her bloodwork it turned out she did,” Zgurzynski said. “Knowing that I did the right thing and knowing that I have the capability and the instincts to react in a crisis reassures me that I am going down the right path.”
Wheat said that she can succeed in college and surmount any obstacles she may face pursuing her career.
“College is hard but it is hard for everyone,” Wheat said. “This is just another thing that tried to knock me over. It is like those rides at carnivals where they knock you down and you just dodge and keep going. I am just gonna get back up and keep going.”