Choosing the Bright Side

All over the United States, students attending college aim to get the best grades and get the most out of their education. Some of these students don’t have as easy a chore as others, though. Along with the stress of making the grade and the finances that college requires, a number of college students have to also worry about disabilities they have been living with for either a short period or their whole life.

Students can find it hard to find helping coping with disabilities. Teaching strategies are available from many Web sites that are on the Internet, but most help is directed somewhere other than the student. “What better way to learn how to cope with a disability than from other students?” Daniel Fisher said of Western Carolina University.

Fisher lives in Bryson City and went to high school at Swain County High when he was diagnosed with rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease which can be the result of an untreated bout of strep throat or scarlet fever. It most likely will appear in children ages six to 15.

“My ninth grade year of high school was when I first felt the effects of the

disease,” Fisher said with a painful look on his face as he began to reminisce about his journey battling the disease. He was an up-and-coming track star at the time. “The disease had me convinced that I had arthritis in my joints and I just felt pain every time I tried to move and it would slowly begin to wear me down and deter me from school and the like.”

Not knowing exactly the reason why the disease had caused Fisher’s body to hurt, the pain crept up his hand and to his arm and shoulder, but in the process Fisher to lost the mobility he once had in his arm.

“Even though this had happened, because of the sports and all that I was involved in, a person wouldn’t take something like this too seriously right off the bat,” Fisher said after his first battle with what he still couldn’t identify.

It slowly became a living, breathing problem. It would act as if it were a parasite; quickly take over Fisher’s body by moving into his joints around his neck and jaw traveling to his other arm and paralyzing it.

“It wasn’t until that next Sunday that the seriousness of the problem became apparent,” Fisher said.

On a quiet Sunday morning Fisher woke abruptly with the shock of his life. As he tried to get out of the bed, he couldn’t move. Horror gripped him as he lay helpless trying to manage movement of some sort.

“The only thing I could do was blink my eyelids; quite literally, I was just there stiff as a board. I finally was able to get my jaw to start working and started to scream for my dad, crying at this point because I was utterly and totally freaked out,” expressed Fisher when remembering what he called “the worst moment of [his] life.”

At the time that this had taken place, Jamie Fisher, Daniel’s father, had gotten him dressed and taken Daniel to the emergency room at Swain County Memorial Hospital. The doctors there had no idea what was wrong with Fisher except that whatever it was, it was serious. They ran some tests and finally gave him some steroids and antibiotics and sent him home, still unable to move.

“I think I could move my knee and get some function out of it, but it hurt so bad that all I could do was cry as the pain came,” Fisher said.

A few more weeks came and went as Fisher suffered through pain and bewilderment as to what exactly was wrong with him. Doctors ran test after test trying to figure out why he was in so much pain. After a while, Fisher was sent to a heart specialist who expressed confusion because his pain was in his limbs, not his heart.

The doctors ran tests drawing blood and ran EKGs. They found shortly thereafter that one of the valves in his heart had been leaking.

“They found this leak and immediately ran a test for a disease that had not been in Bryson City for over 40 years,” Fisher said. “My grandfather was actually the last case that was treated when they found it. The disease is called rheumatic fever.”

Rheumatic fever mainly affects the normal functions of the heart, but can also wreak havoc in other parts of the body. According to Medical News Today, heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States.

“Rheumatic fever can do what it did to me and go straight for the joints before your heart. It caused for me an accelerated state of arthritis that took my 14-year-old body and gave it the arthritis of 90-year-old man,” Fisher said.

After the correct diagnosis, the doctors sat Fisher down and explained that he will never be rid of rheumatic fever; it will stay with him until his death. The treatment for the disease is a monthly shot of Bicillin, a pure penicillin given to Fisher in his hip or quad muscle of the leg. The needle is about 10 inches in length so as to penetrate all the way to the bone. The Bicillin is frozen so it is injected into the body as a thick liquid. This in turn causes excruciating pain and Fisher cries every time that he is to get these shots.

Fisher’s heart wasn’t damaged as bad as was thought, but the heart specialist told him that he will never be able to play sports again. Being a scholastic athlete, Fisher refused this verdict and went on to play high school sports and put his body through the ropes of recovery.

“I didn’t know how to stop,” Fisher said. ” I was the captain of every team that I was on, I felt like the life I lived depended on sports in a way and when they told me the news of not being able to play sports, it made me want to more than ever.”

Fisher sustained serious injuries, especially while playing football. A simple hit for most was a devastating blow for him. He broke his ankle twice along with the tearing of his knee. His collar bone, shoulder and wrists were especially susceptible to breaking, and he broke his wrist four times. The whole right side of his body was deployed in a war of pain and recovery throughout the football games.

“I kept playing sports and, by the grace of God, I survived football and track, putting my body through pain and tears,” Fisher said. “The monthly shots did help in lessening the pain, though. College track would soon be coming into my future as I would certainly make the track team, but because of the torture I put my body through in high school I was soon ending my track career due to the stress my joints had already taken. There have been days where I have not been able to get up and get going.”

He suffered in his school work as he was first going through the torture of shots and chronic pain. Getting from class to class and constant joint pressure from walking all day and sitting made life uneasy and it quickly became a hindrance.

For a while, Fisher used a wheelchair to get around. It took some time to get back into sports, but in the junior and senior year of high school, Fisher had been doing well enough to be in the top of his class.

“It took a lot of hard work and effort, but I made it through,” Fisher said.

Even though Daniel had shown his capable ability to play sports he quickly learned that track in college was too stressful and came to the realization that sports were now out of the question, which in turn became a big hindrance to him. With the disease always bearing its teeth, Fisher has had to miss a lot of class work because of constant hospital visits for treatment.

“It’s not too bad,” Fisher said. “I keep up with hard work.”

Throughout his college career, Fisher did have benefits to this irregular disease. He was able to take advantage of scholarships and go to college not worrying about paying the government back.

“I didn’t just give up and I stuck out in the crowd because of the disease,” Fisher said. “It is reasonably the main reason that I have been able to go to school.”

Awareness of debilitating illnesses can lead to the enjoyment of what others don’t see, such as the beauty of running when you were told that you would never be able to again, or the ability to actually go to school. Respect for life becomes a great advantage for those with disabilities. Fisher offers this advice to those living with disabilities on a college campus:

“Don’t get down about the problems that you have, but give yourself the opportunity to benefit from a disease and make the beast that lives within you your strength, not your weakness,” Fisher said.