Michelle’s Story

Meet Reality Changers program graduate Michelle.

Michelle joined Reality Changers in 2016 and graduated from Hoover High School in 2020. 

Throughout high school, Michelle had an interest in medicine and biology. She joined the Health Academy and took biomedical classes at Hoover. She also participated in community internships at health facilities and even got to do rotations in a hospital.

“I really enjoyed the hospital. I liked how fast-paced it was. You’re always on your feet. You’re always going back and forth between patients. I really enjoyed that.”

In addition to the internships and rotations, Michelle was busy during high school. She participated in Academic League, played volleyball, performed violin, and attended Reality Changers weekly.

During her Junior and Senior years, Michelle worked hard to maintain good grades, prepare for college, fill out applications, and sign-up for financial aid. Her efforts paid off when she was accepted to the University of Richmond on a full-ride scholarship!

In July of 2020, Michelle was ready to fly across the country and start her freshman year of college when she started to feel sick. Her symptoms got worse and she ultimately ended up in the emergency room. Ten days later, she was diagnosed with Nephrotic Syndrome, a rare and serious kidney disorder. Unfortunately, it wasn’t safe for Michelle to move to Virginia. So, she stayed in San Diego.

Throughout her first year of college, Michelle was in and out of the hospital and clinics. She would experience extreme side effects as doctors tried out different medications. At times, her mobility was limited, she couldn’t sleep, and her hands would tremble. Through all of the ups and downs, however, she decided to stay enrolled in college and participate in distance learning.

“Although my doctors and family suggested I defer my academic year, my condition and physical disabilities did not prevent me from continuing my academics. I was like, ‘I have to see it through.’

Michelle would wake up at 6am to participate in classes on East coast time. She ultimately finished the year with a 3.5 GPA. She says that keeping the lines of communication open with her university was a key skill that helped her to be successful.

“Reality Changers helped me learn effective communication. This was really important last year. As long as I communicated with my professors about my situation, they would totally understand if I needed an extension. These communication skills also helped me connect with support systems on campus such as the Dean and my academic advisor.”

At the same time that Michelle was participating in virtual classes, she was also getting to know the medicine field from a whole new perspective.

“I actually had a pretty good time when I was in-patient. It was the first time the roles had switched for me. I got to meet so many inspiring people at the hospital, like a bunch of med-school students and residents that I got close to. I even got close to my doctor — she actually wrote me a letter of recommendation for a scholarship that I ended up winning this year. And my current doctor now, I actually did research with him over the summer. I met a lot of people that were really willing to help me and they told me, ‘you know what? You’re pretty on your toes. Are you considering medicine?’ “

While Michelle had a very challenging year, she says that she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. She is grateful to have learned so much about the medical field, to have made meaningful connections with medical professionals, and to have proven to herself and others that she could overcome enormous challenges.

“After overcoming a challenge like this, I’m sure I can overcome anything! Reality Changers always tells their students that ‘tough times never last, but tough people always do.’ Last year, tough times really did come through. It’s a saying that kept me going… and still keeps me going.”

Today, Michelle is living on-campus at the University of Richmond. Her condition is stable, but she knows that there is currently no cure for Nephrotic Syndrome. She wants to raise awareness about disabilities like hers, which may not always be visible. Sometimes people don’t believe her when she describes her symptoms.

“Just because someone doesn’t ‘look’ sick doesn’t mean that they are not sick.”

Michelle has started volunteering with an organization for patients like her, called the Nephrotic Syndrome Foundation.

“We do volunteer work with younger kids and other patients who are also diagnosed. We just talk about our journey with the disorder, what worked for us, what didn’t. I’m happy that I found them, because this disorder is rare and it can be very lonely.”

In addition to her volunteer work, Michelle is studying, working as a research assistant with her doctor, and doing a community internship. She hasn’t declared her major yet, but is interested in a pre-med or biochemistry track. She enjoys living on campus, taking classes in person, and getting to know people.

“Being at the University of Richmond is probably my biggest accomplishment. It reinforces everything I worked for since high school. All my work paid off.”

Like Michelle, many Reality Changers students and graduates have had to overcome difficult challenges to get where they are today. You can make a donation to support them on their college journeys.

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