Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Eric Vaughn
Katy Brennan said, “it’s like building a house out of popsicle sticks.”
When she was 14 years old, she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a rare disease that affects connective tissue. While most people would be shocked, she already had her suspicions that this was the cause of the symptoms that she had previously experienced.
This condition can lead to easily dislocated joints, skin that bruises often, and sometimes can cause rupture of major blood vessels. EDS is an invisible disability; on the surface she looks completely healthy.
Although experiencing this condition might slow others down, Brennan had made it her purpose to educate people about the disease and inspire others who have had troubles with their illnesses.
She has already published around 10 poems, multiple features for websites, and more than 60 articles (one of which has been shared 16,000 times). She often gets emails from websites asking her to write for them, sometimes doing as many as two features a week.
Although she has overcome and made the best out of her condition, it hasn’t been easy. She has been bullied at school by people who can’t seem to understand what she goes through with it.
“Every time I publish an article, I get a lot of backlash for it, so the friend thing is kind of a revolving door,” she said.
EDS has thrown other obstacles at Brennan as well. She loved cheerleading, but an injury, caused by the disease, forced her to quit and move to coaching younger cheerleaders.
Two years ago, she began learning sign language, just for fun, and even started the Sign Language Club in her school. Though in a strange twist of fate, this past December, she ended up losing part of her hearing.
EDS hasn’t stopped her from working various jobs and charities. Other than some political internships, she works with Sayfty, a gender equality organization based in India, running their Instagram and Twitter accounts.
“One of my favorite parts is actually connecting with the people,” she said.
Brennan has worked for groups that attempt to give back to the community such as SRACLC (Special Recreation Association of Central Lake County), an organization that hosts events and dinners for people who have special needs.
She loves doing her part to make the world a better place, and making people happy.
“I do it all because of my buddy Gabby,” she said.
Brennan and her friend met through Best Buddy at her school. The program pairs people up with someone who has special needs and host events such as dances or going bowling.
“My buddy completely changed my life, she’s one of the reasons I get up in the morning,” Brennan said, “she’s amazing.”
Brennan’s determination and extraordinary compassion for others has helped other people push through their struggles, and look at life through a different spectrum.
“I love to improve others’ situations when I can not improve my own,” she said.