BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Dysautonomia is an illness that affects the body's nervous system and prevents those diagnosed with it from doing even the simplest things, like standing up.
Twenty-six year-old Hiliary Schroeder is refusing to let the syndrome keep her down, she's standing tall, not only for herself, but for others.
"I didn't think that would ever be my reality," said Hiliary Schroeder.
In 2008 during her senior year in high school, the now 26-year-old said she knew something wasn't right. Her instincts were correct. In less than a year she was diagnosed with dysautonomia with a form of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. At the time she said she new nothing about the syndrome.
"I didn't even know how to pronounce it," Schroeder said.
But that soon changed as she learned about the illness and how it would impact her life.
"Debilitating, homebound, people not being able to walk, being really sick, not having their life the same and the final thing was that there was no cure," Schroeder said.
She was only 18 years old.
"I was scared," Schroeder said.
Five months later, she was homebound, in a wheelchair and unable to do the simplest things.
"I couldn't even wash my hair. I had to sit at the sink and my mom would wash it for me," Schroeder said.
The syndrome is often referred to as the invisible illness.
"I don't look sick, but on the inside I'm having all of these symptoms," Schroeder said.
"Her body doesn't regulate the same way ours does. So if she gets excited, her heart rate races way up to the top, and she feels it and it feels like it's going to burst out of her chest. Then all of a sudden her blood pressure will plummet and she'll feel dizzy and nauseous and light headed. If your blood pressure goes too low, you could die," said Dr. Stephanie King, one of Schroeder's doctors located in Pasadena.
Despite her incurable health challenge, Schroeder some how found the strength to attend college.
"I'm not going to let this syndrome get me down," Schroeder said.
She attained her bachelors degree through National University in 2013 and she didn't stop there. In April she graduated with her masters degree. Schroeder has a B.A. is in psychology and a B.S. in counseling with a specialization in marriage, family and child therapy.
"The fact that she is so determined to not allow this to set her back, I think is a true inspiration. She inspires me," Dr. King said.
Schroeder says now she has another dream, to make the invisible illness visible.
"I kind of want to be an advocate for POTS and those people who are suffering from it or similar conditions," Schroeder said.
Her first message to those living with POTS...
"If your dreams don't scare you, then you're not dreaming big enough," Schroeder said.
Schroeder said she has started reaching out to other people living with POTS on social media, she sends them inspirational messages and encourages them to chase their dreams.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, roughly one to three million young adults in America have POTS Women are five times more likely to have the illness than men.
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