The class of 2023 high school and college graduates experienced unique challenges during the past three years, as COVID-19 forced classrooms to close and the learning community to adapt to distance learning online. They persevered and overcame many obstacles to achieve their degrees and further their education.
Among the commendable students steadfast in their determination to graduate no matter what is UC Santa Cruz’s Hannah G., who conquered seemingly insurmountable odds beyond the pandemic to achieve the important milestone of earning a college degree.
Shortly after she eagerly returned to campus along with her peers after nearly a year of remote learning, Hannah began experiencing unusual health issues.
Her muscles became intermittently weak, causing her to drop a glass bottle of iced tea in the grocery store one day.
“I just suddenly couldn’t hold it, and it slipped out of my hand,” she explains.
Her voice would become noticeably higher pitched and sometimes difficult to understand, and in the coming weeks, her symptoms increased to include episodes of difficulty swallowing and breathing. She also noticed that her smile sometimes looked slightly lopsided. She was forced to quit her job at the coffee cart on campus due to an inability to perform the required duties of lifting the heavy equipment and standing for extended periods.
Over the next few months, multiple trips to the emergency room, student health center and specialists—including an ENT and neurologists—led to her diagnosis of myasthenia gravis, or MG. Relatively rare among young adults, MG is a neuromuscular, autoimmune disorder that has no known cure.
More common in adults than children, MG can occur regardless of race, gender, and age. An estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people are thought to have MG in the United States alone. Often difficult to diagnose as MG symptoms can present differently, some people go years without a correct diagnosis.
Fortunately, Hannah’s MG was diagnosed earlier than most, in April 2022. MG is usually diagnosed by a neurologist or neuromuscular specialist with a blood test or specialty tensile tests. While there is currently not a cure for MG, treatments exist to manage symptoms.
Hannah’s neurologist initially prescribed Prednisone and various medications to treat her symptoms, but months of continually increasing dosages of the steroid caused serious side effects and landed her in the hospital in August 2022.
Recovering from a harrowing medical ordeal for the next several weeks, Hannah eventually regained her health enough to resume classes in September, only to experience the sudden and tragic death of her father the following month in October. Taking a leave of absence during fall quarter to grieve and heal, Hannah returned to UCSC in January 2023, determined to finish her senior year and earn her degree.
Steadily and surely, Hannah attended classes, completing class assignments and struggling to once again enjoy the typical activities of a young college student; little by little, she began connecting with friends and classmates again, eventually feeling well enough to smile and socialize.
During finals in early June, Hannah was scheduled for an IV-IG infusion treatment, which she receives every 10 weeks to treat her MG symptoms. Upon realizing her final and infusion were scheduled on the same day at the same time, she rescheduled her infusion to take her final.
Much to her celebration, she recently learned that she received an A on all of her finals, maintaining her Summa cum laude status.
Currently completing the last eight credits to officially receive her degree, Hannah is thriving as a young adult with MG. She’s learned to manage her symptoms and serves as an example to anyone dealing with a chronic health condition that it is possible to achieve your goals and dreams.