By Loren Rhoades, Assistant Features Editor
School, work, and an autoimmune disease, that is the everyday life of Kaleigh Reynolds.
Reynolds is a sophomore communication studies major who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease two weeks before starting her freshman year.
‘From the day I was diagnosed to moving in it was a struggle,” she said. “I didn’t have time to process what was going on with my body or to figure out what I could and couldn’t eat before moving to OBU.”
Crohn’s disease is a condition in which the gastrointestinal tract becomes chronically inflamed. Symptoms of the disease include abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, weight loss, fever, exhaustion, loss of appetite, etc.
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, there is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease nor an exact cause of the condition. Treatments for the disease only exist in order to alleviate symptoms and to prevent further complications.
For Reynolds and her family, it is a continual learning process to discover what she can eat, what medications work best and how to use her disease as a tool to help others.
“After living with this disease for a year and a half, I’ve realized that life is short and you can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it,” she said. “I just try to live every day positively.”
The positive outlook that Kaleigh has now isn’t one that has come easily. Crohn’s not only takes a toll on her physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.
In order to keep up with the physical aspect, she has had two colonoscopies, attends doctors’ appointments every three months, has bloodwork done regularly, meets with a nutritionist and does biweekly self-injections.
“Physically, I’ve overcome a lot from knowing what my body likes, to losing almost 30 pounds due to the loss of nutrients and gaining it all back,” Reynolds said. “I’ve also had to overcome the toll that Crohn’s has on my body like getting fevers out of nowhere and constantly getting up to go to the restroom.”
Emotionally, both Reynolds and her family were on a rollercoaster ride at the beginning of her journey with Crohn’s.
“When she was first diagnosed, we had no idea how difficult this disease was,” Reynold’s mother Laurie Reynolds said. “For the first nine months to a year, we felt very helpless and just wanted to take this from her.”
What made the situation even harder, was that Reynolds and her parents were now living three and a half hours apart. So not only were they having to quickly learn all they could about the disease, but they were having to do it from different states.
“It’s been very challenging and heartbreaking,” Reynolds father Sean Reynolds said, “but having some distance is teaching her how to manage this on her own.”
For Reynold’s the most emotionally draining part of her journey with Crohn’s is the lack of confidence she felt in the beginning. She thought no one would want to have a relationship with her or even be near her because of this disease.
On top of that, she continually has to work on loving herself physically. Since having this disease causes her weight to fluctuate frequently it is sometimes hard for her to love the body she’s been given.
“With my weight jumping up and down the way it does, my mom has had to remind me that, ‘you need to show your body some grace, because your body has been through so much in the past year that this is something you have to be okay with,’” she said.
Due to the constant pain and suffering she felt in the beginning, Reynolds also questioned why this is a burden that she must bear.
“When I was first diagnosed, I questioned a lot about what I did to deserve this,” she said. “I was very upset with God because I didn’t feel like I did anything wrong in my life.”
But as time has passed Reynolds said it continues to make her faith stronger, because she is able to help others through her Crohn’s. Being able to reach out to those in similar situations helps her to trust that the Lord gave her this for a reason.
“While having it and learning more about it, I’ve just learned that God gave this to me for a reason, because something that could be miserable for me could be a blessing to somebody else,” she said.
Reynold’s parents said despite the emotional and physical struggle she continues to endure, she never tries to throw in the towel. They said although it’s been difficult, she rarely complains and continues to fight hard every single day.
“Her faith has stayed strong, and for me as her father it is one of the strongest points I have seen in her,” Sean said.
Both of Reynolds parent said that she inspires them to be better than they were, because of all she has overcome. They are happy that she’s embracing that this is her story, because it is a message of hope.
“Every colonoscopy and every needle punch is a part of her story,” Sean said.