Recent graduate living with cystic fibrosis celebrates new life chapter
Kaitlyn Hentschel saw not one but two life milestones come to fruition when she graduated from Bloomsburg University this spring with a degree in communication studies.
She got engaged, launching the next chapter of her life.
A few days later she graduated college, concluding her latest chapter with a momentous achievement as someone living with cystic fibrosis. In fact, Hentschel is among only 31% of adults with cystic fibrosis to do so, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
And she did it on time — amid the COVID-19 pandemic — in four years, despite being hospitalized several times during her college career, including twice this past semester.
“When beginning college, it was scary to not have my parents around to kick me in gear,” said Hentschel, who also earned a minor in emergent media. “Keeping up with treatments is difficult when you have college courses and a new life to explore, but I tried my best to stay healthy.”
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes problems with breathing and digestion that affects about 35,000 people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It impacts many different organs in the body, making people with the illness more likely to develop other health conditions including liver disease, arthritis, spleen issues, and osteoporosis.
“I didn’t let these obstacles discourage me,” Hentschel said. “My family played a huge role in keeping me determined on the days I wanted to give up. They reminded me who I was and the goals I had set for myself.”
Hentschel’s determination to overcome obstacles of all sizes was forged years prior from a challenging childhood growing up with cystic fibrosis.
“It was a constant battle,” Hentschel said. “Between daily treatments, medications, long hospital stays, ongoing doctor appointments, and surgeries I still had to be a normal kid who attended school and made friends. It got harder once I reached my teenage years, because my parents started counting on me to take care of myself rather than them doing everything for me.”
Though gaining more independence was rewarding, according to Hentschel, it also presented new challenges.
“This was difficult, because I just wanted to be like my friends and have no health troubles,” Hentschel said. “The older I grew the more I started understanding the consequences of cystic fibrosis and what can happen if I didn’t stay on my regime. This reality was frightening.”
Adding to the traditional fears of attending college, Hentschel was faced with navigating life with cystic fibrosis while living nearly two hours away from home in Wayne County. Nevertheless, she tackled Bloomsburg head-on and quickly found comfort in the Department of Communication Studies.
“I’ve always loved to communicate with people, especially about my chronic illness,” Hentschel said. “This led me to be a part of the Children’s Miracle Network from an early age, progressing into Geisinger's 2015 Miracle Kid, where I had the opportunity to represent The Children’s Miracle Network by attending several events and speaking about my illness and how the CMN helped me thrive.”
Hentschel also thrived in her major, joining the National Communication Student Club and becoming their Communication Day chairwoman for two years in a row.
“All of these major events are making it feel so real and exciting!” Hentschel said. “Growing up with cystic fibrosis, we were never sure I’d ever get the chance to graduate with a bachelor's degree or get married. So now that it’s right in front of me, I feel beyond blessed I’m doing well and thriving!”
Hentschel says she foresees many more life milestones ahead in the near future.
“My long-term goal is to have events on my farm that cater to sensory development in children and also have fun and engaging events for adults to enjoy,” Hentschel said. “Maybe even create a barn venue for weddings where I can be a wedding planner. No matter what happens I just want to bring happiness and fun to my community.”