Student Spotlight: Nicole Kramer
Major: Associate in Science
There are many things in Nicole Kramer’s life that have changed since being diagnosed with Friedrich’s Ataxia.
She may be unable to play volleyball or softball - sports she once enjoyed - but Kramer now kayaks and still enjoys cycling on her new blue recumbent bike. She’s also participated in fundraisers for the disease that’s changed her life.
A debilitating, degenerative neuro-muscular disorder, Friedrich’s Ataxia affects one in 50,000 people in the United States. FA symptoms include loss of coordination in the arms and legs, fatigue, aggressive scoliosis, vision impairment, hearing loss and slurred speech. Additionally, some FA patients, like Kramer, develop serious heart conditions.
Diagnosed her freshman year of high school, only a few of Kramer’s close friends at Willowbrook High School knew of her condition until she was highlighted at a school assembly.
“When I did a presentation at school, no one really knew about the disease,” Kramer said. “I’m not the kind of person to just walk up to someone and talk about it, but people are also afraid and won't ask.”
Kramer is willing to talk about her experiences and has become involved with FARA, the Friedrich’s Ataxia Research Alliance. Over the last few years, Kramer has attended camps for other FA patients, surrounding herself with others who understand firsthand the impact of the disease.
“It’s easy to ask how I am, but it’s hard for anyone without FA to really understand,” she said. “A bad day is when my heart’s not happy. It’s almost like an elephant is sitting on your chest. You can breathe, but there’s a lot of pressure.”
There are days Kramer will use a walker at home, but overall she prefers to navigate life, both at home and at school, unassisted. Her FA family, as she calls them, provides a much-needed support system as well as opportunities to socialize with other FA patients and raise awareness about the disease.
College of DuPage offered Kramer an opportunity to earn credits while determining what specific career she’d like to focus on. She also was a student worker in the Office of Student Financial Aid. Having earned her associate’s degree, Kramer is now at Northern Illinois University studying biology.
Kramer said she also plans to continue her efforts to raise awareness of FA. Attending various FARA events not only helps with that goal but gives FA patients more opportunities to meet and share information on how they are living with the disease.
“It’s important to find someone to relate to,” she said. “When you’re with FA people, they’re family.”
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