My College Experience Was Great — and Yours Can Be, Too
When I was deciding which college to attend, my health was declining because of pulmonary hypertension (PH). That made my college decision — which for most people is marked by excitement and opportunity — clouded by my needs for accessibility and support.
A few weeks before making my decision, my mom and I visited my top two choices to meet with counselors regarding campus accessibility. At these meetings, we discussed elevator access, single-living options in dorms, permission to keep a car on campus, and parking options.
It was difficult for me to have my college decisions be so heavily dictated by my health needs. But these meetings made the differences between the schools very clear. One university was fully prepared to make plenty of exceptions for my accessibility needs, while the other didn’t seem equipped with a plan or many options for feasible daily living.
Without hesitation, I opted for the first university. Even in a time of optimal health, I knew that the other school would be far more difficult for me to navigate given my illness. While this choice was complicated and not necessarily what I wanted at the time, it was undeniably the best route for me in the long term.
I attended school for four years, earning a degree in nursing. For three of those years, I lived on campus. During my senior year, I lived in an off-campus house with five roommates. Despite my struggles with pulmonary hypertension through this time, I would consider my college experience to have been quite normal. Ultimately, by prioritizing some key elements of the campus and college life in general, I was able to enjoy some truly memorable college years.
One of the major PH symptoms is shortness of breath with exertion. Walking long distances and climbing stairs were some of my greatest struggles during this phase of my life. For this reason, I made sure to choose a small, manageable campus. I also made sure to ask for a map of all elevators in both the academic buildings and the dorms, so that I could plan my routes around campus efficiently.
Access to amenities
PH can also lead to unpredictable energy levels, so it was important that I had easy access to food and any other amenities I may have required. My campus, thankfully, had many quick food options, an easily accessible health services center, and on-campus counseling. Having these things within my reach made my life easier and helped me care for myself during times of increased stress.
Proximity to healthcare
I opted to keep my education in-state. My campus was about 45 minutes from my home, 20 minutes from Minneapolis, and 90 minutes from my primary care provider. This meant that in times of illness, I could commute from home if needed. It also meant that I had quick access to an emergency room in the city and I didn’t have to travel far for my quarterly clinic checkups with my team. While going out of state should be considered an option for many, this proximity to my carers and providers was crucial to my collegiate success.
Finally, I benefited from some accommodations in my academic endeavors. While it was something I rarely used, my professors were aware that in a heightened state of illness, I might need an extension. In one example, a case of pneumonia required me to take a chemistry final a week late, something that typically wouldn’t have been permitted.
More than academic exceptions, I required physical exceptions. Being a nursing major with clinical rotations was very rigorous. Particularly during my internship, my preceptor was informed of my limitations with weights and stairs. Throughout all of my clinical rotations, I was also exempt from dealing with patients with airborne or contact illness, as this could have compromised my own health.
College can be overwhelming for someone battling pulmonary hypertension. While I had to sacrifice some small aspects of the college experience, I want to be a testament that this journey is possible for anyone who hopes to pursue it.
Ultimately, the greatest thing you can do is to advocate for your needs so solutions can be found. Persevering through a college education with a complex illness may require more resilience and creativity than it does for most, but it can also be incredibly worthwhile. Despite some difficult moments with my health during those years, I wouldn’t trade the relationships and lessons I gained for anything.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.