At 20 days old, Lauryn Strader contracted meningitis and later was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She could not talk, walk, or eat, yet her twin sister, Shannon, considered Lauryn her soul mate. At the tender age of 8, Lauryn lost the battle with her disease, and Shannon lost her twin.
Shannon also battled a chronic illness herself while in college. She fought Posterior Nutcracker Syndrome, a rare condition that severely restricts blood flow away from the kidneys, and she’s now in remission and a medical student at Lincoln Memorial University.
In Lauryn’s honor, Shannon founded the nonprofit Bella Soul, whose mission is to help college students confronting chronic illness or disability through scholarships and/or emotional support. With 100 percent of donors’ money going to scholarships, the charity does not limit its support to those with any one specific illness.
Strader founded and runs Bella Soul, a nonprofit directed toward helping college students confronting chronic illness or disability through scholarships and emotional support.
“Every story and scholarship application we have received I have cried over and really been touched by,” she said.
Sarah Schlink, who suffers from cerebral palsy, says she has a new purpose after she found a sense of belonging in Bella Soul.
“My life has a whole new meaning. I no longer see myself as a handicapped individual but instead as Sarah, who just happens to have cerebral palsy,” said the Bella Soul Scholarship recipient.
Chelsea Reynolds, another Bella Soul recipient, suffers from kidney failure and has to sit for 12 hours a week to get her blood cleaned out just to stay alive.
“It is so easy to feel sorry for yourself and let your illness be an excuse to not be happy or to not do anything productive, but don’t let it,” said Reynolds. “I am the happiest and most successful I have ever been in my life. You are so much stronger than you think you are.”
Suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, Lauren Lipsyc has had to have her entire colon removed in addition to four other major abdominal surgeries. She said that being a part of Bella Soul helped her to find a sense of community.
“It made me feel like there are others going through what I’m going through,” said Lipsyc. “I’m always living with an increased risk, but I can’t let that dictate my life. I do my best so that I don’t end up in the hospital soon, but it’s always a risk that I’ll have for my whole life.”
While Lipsyc is currently a student at Barnard College, she hopes to pursue a career in law.
If you or someone you know is a college student suffering from a chronic illness, please SHARE these Bella Soul stories and visit the charity’s website.