DECATUR – Stress can be a problem for every college student and finding a good balance between coursework, employment and relationships is something that every student strives for.
But for Millikin University first-year student Emily Edwards, finding that balance is even more important.
Emily has dealt with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) -- a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy cells, tissues and organs -- since she was 16. Symptoms can vary from person to person and can include persistent fever, joint pain, fatigue or skin rashes. SLE can also cause more severe issues, such as recurring meningitis, blood clots and kidney failure.
Stress can be a major trigger that can bring on severe symptoms.
“It is hard to predict but I can usually tell when it is coming on. Over the course of a day, I will start to feel it,” Emily said. “One of the common symptoms is brain fog. I also get severe joint and muscle pain and burning sensations in my arms, which makes it hard to write and type. It is like putting icy hot is on your arms like a lotion and turning it up to 10.”
During her first very severe experience with SLE at 16, Emily nearly died.
“My lupus first attacked my joints and my skin. It led to rashes and then it also attacked my heart, lungs and kidneys,” Emily said. “I was on life support for three days. They weren’t able to diagnose me until I was already in both cardiac and respiratory failure.”
Emily spent nearly two months in a St. Louis hospital recovering but Emily found inspiration in time in the hospital.
“I had always wanted to become a doctor and that was my intention since kindergarten. I was thinking about emergency medicine,” Emily said. “But after this, I realized how much more I wanted to do pediatrics because I had this experience, and I knew I could relate to the families and the patients.”
She is now well on her way to that goal as a Biology Pre-Medicine major and a James Millikin Honor Scholar and Leighty Science Scholar. Emily was recently awarded a merit-based scholarship from the Lupus Inspiration Foundation for Excellence (L.I.F.E.).
L.I.F.E. provides scholarships to increase awareness of lupus, which is one of the least-recognized and least-funded major diseases to affect Americans. Lupus is also typically a women’s disease as 90% of its victims are female, with most of them being people of color.
“Right now, lupus is considered an incurable disease but hopefully with further research, we can find a way to cure it,” Emily said.
Emily, who is originally from Springfield, followed her father, Ward Edwards ’87, to Millikin and she was excited to attend Millikin with the possibility of continuing to play the clarinet while doing her medical studies. Emily is now a part of the Millikin Wind Ensemble and she uses music as a way to avoid stress and the resulting lupus flair-up.
“Music is one of my big stress outlets and that’s why I wanted to continue with music. It’s a way to be able to step away from my schoolwork,” she said. “I make sure to take some time every day and sit and listen to music.”
Emily’s SLE experience has motivated her to never pass up any opportunity and at the same time, appreciate the simple things in life.
“I have found that I have a lot more joy in the smaller things, like just having fun with your friends or having a conversation over lunch,” she said. “There are so many things that I want to do still and it kind of put everything into perspective for me.”