How My Chronic Illness Impacted My College Choices

Choosing a college can be difficult. One student shares her journey towards finding a college that supported her disability and chronic illness needs.

portrait of Madison Conine
by Madison Conine

Updated November 7, 2022

Share this Article
How My Chronic Illness Impacted My College Choices
Image Credit: fstop123 / E+ / Getty Images

I was born with hearing loss and grew up relying on hearing aids and FM systems in school. As an eighth grade student, I was listening to the teacher through the FM system and taking notes at the same time. For me, it was a lot of stimulation going on for my brain to process for eight hours a day.

Back when I was in high school, I wanted to pursue a career in nursing or education. I knew I wanted to help the community in some shape or form. I ended up failing out of the local university and moved back home to just take a break and reanalyze what I wanted to do in life.

I waited two years to go back to school. I decided to go to Gateway Technical College for the veterinary technician program because the program is very hands-on, visual, local, and very accommodating to people's needs.

While taking general education courses for veterinary technology at Gateway, I also started taking criminal justice courses because I have a love for crime — thanks to the television show "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." As a Deaf student who relies on sight, I thought this would be fitting, aligning with my love and passion for animals who are sick and who have been abused.

Seeking Accommodations for My Disability

At the end of my eighth grade year, we had the annual individual education plan (IEP) meeting with the team to discuss my plan for high school. I had discussions with my mother, father, and stepmother to fight for an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to be in the classroom because I was not completely comprehending my education.

As my parents and I sat through the IEP meeting, one of the staff members said, "Oh, she's fine. She doesn't need an interpreter." My stepmom spoke up and said, "Madi, would you like to express how you feel?"

I eventually stated that I was not understanding what I was being educated on because I was missing everything that was being taught. I broke down crying during the meeting after my statements. The team approved the interpreter immediately. From that point on, I've had an interpreter with me throughout my education.

Once I attended college, I became more vocal about which accommodations I needed to make my education the best it could be! While I was at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, I had an ASL interpreter and live captioning during class. As of today, while attending Gateway Technical College, I have an ASL interpreter, notetaker, testing accommodations, and various veterinary-specific accommodations.

Managing Multiple Disabilities and Chronic Illness

In addition to hearing loss, I also dealt with chronic kidney disease that was caused by prune belly syndrome. Prune belly syndrome is a rare disorder characterized by the partial or complete absence of the stomach or abdominal muscles and urinary tract malformations. Living with a chronic condition and rare disease has been a rollercoaster, to say the least!

Prune belly syndrome caused chronic kidney disease, which led to renal failure. At the age of two, I received the gift of life. I received a kidney transplant from a young woman in her early 20s. Now that I'm turning 26, I can't imagine losing my life so early like my donor did. I conquered all odds against me throughout my life, enduring 50 surgeries as of March 2022.

My second and most recent transplant has been life-changing and forever treasured because my donor was my identical twin sister. Identical twin transplantations are very rare.

My twin sister, Savannah, has been my rock. She helped me navigate school while being a chronically ill child growing up. She helped me receive homework assignments from the school if I was gone for a long period of time due to illnesses or surgery.

During the transplant screening process, she was waiting to hear back from medical schools for acceptance. Since she was in the midst of being processed for medical school and wasn't sure if she'd be accepted, she requested a deferment and awaited the unknown date of transplant surgery.

The school accepted her and her deferment request — she was awarded a seat for the class of 2026. She put her life on the line and paused so much to give me another chance at life.

I discussed with my academic advisor and disability advisor a request to defer my awarded seat for the veterinary technician program in the fall of 2021. I was feeling nervous and uneasy about attending courses in person while undergoing dialysis.

My academic and disability advisor suggested I request a deferment from the chair of the veterinary sciences department. The chair accepted my request due to medical circumstances and re-awarded a seat for the fall of 2022.

How My College Supported Ongoing Obstacles

Last summer, when the disability advising team was accommodating my needs, the program learned they could also accommodate other students with various medical conditions. As a student with a variety of health conditions and accommodations, I was blown away by how much they adjusted the veterinary sciences building!

A few things they changed included lowering the sink, making the exam table height adjustable, and providing an amplified stethoscope. I am beyond grateful for what they have done to accommodate my needs at Gateway.

Throughout this past year, I endured a lot of obstacles. When my twin sister and I went through the transplant process and surgery, we both were able to continue our lives and attend school. As we were recovering from surgery, we received a life-changing, unforgettable, and dreaded phone call. We were notified that we had lost our mother.

Our lives were completely flipped upside down after that night. We were healing from surgery and grieving the loss of a parent. While recovering and grieving, we received an outpouring of support and love from our circle that was just unbelievable.

My academic and disability team was so helpful and supportive during this time. My professors gave me extended deadlines, which helped with my stress. I couldn't thank them enough for the support they've provided this past year.

Learn more about how accessibility removes barriers for success at college and work.

Overcoming Adversity and Standing Out in College

In the spring semester of 2022, I was inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success, which is an honor society. Soon after being inducted, I was recognized by and invited into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society thanks to my 3.6 GPA.

Once the year wrapped up, I attended the Learning Success Center gala, as I was nominated for the Lavon J. Ash Award. At the ceremony, I was absolutely blown away when I was also awarded the Red Hawk Scholar award, which included a tuition scholarship. I had no idea that I was nominated for a scholarship.

Overall, attending Gateway has been a very impactful experience in my life due to the tremendous support and love I have received from the faculty and staff while living with many disabilities. Gateway has helped me become a well-rounded student.

It helped me become self-aware of what I am capable of doing while dealing with everything that is on my plate. It really takes a village to help students succeed, and Gateway has gone above and beyond for me.


Meet the Author

Portrait of Madison Conine

Madison Conine

Madison Conine is a Deaf student at Gateway Technical College studying veterinary technology. She recently graduated with an associate of applied science in criminal justice. She has a love of animals and crime, which brings these two degrees together. She plans on pursuing a bachelor of science in criminology with a focus on forensic sciences, after which she intends to earn a master of science in forensic veterinary.

She is currently employed at her local veterinary hospital as a kennel assistant to gain more experience with animal handling and care. She recently received a tuition scholarship through the Gateway Foundation. She enjoys reading, playing various video games, and relaxing with her dogs.