My Zeta Story: Aline Dolisy

Resilience: The Power of Pushing Back Against Adversity

My college experience has been a four-year roller coaster ride with higher peaks and lower valleys than I could have imagined. Everyone goes through tough times—breakups, health issues, class troubles—that’s just how life is. Even knowing there would be ups and downs, I didn’t expect to almost pass away halfway through my junior year and still be experiencing the consequences of prioritizing school over my health more than a year later.

As a sophomore in spring 2018, I experienced severe cases of chronic bronchitis. During these illnesses, it was difficult to get out of bed and stand up long enough to cook myself a meal, let alone have enough energy to go to class. This was the beginning of my ongoing pursuit of restoring my health. That summer, my doctor diagnosed me with asthma and put me on 10 medications that should have solved my recurring symptoms.

I returned to school in fall 2018, holding leadership positions in ZTA and on campus, taking advanced courses and, you guessed it, still getting sick with increasingly severe symptoms. My illness left my physicians clueless, and my professors questioned my dedication to my studies based on what they could (or couldn’t) see. One professor even refused to accept a doctor’s note to excuse an absence due to chest pains I emailed him about in advance. Under the threat of losing a letter grade in the course, I attended the class instead of seeking medical attention. After several hours of bloodwork and CT scans at the end of the semester, doctors diagnosed this pain as two serious pulmonary embolisms, blood clots in my lungs.

Those blood clots, which had been growing for several months, could have cost me my life. My doctors took me off the medicine that caused the clots, but my lung function did not restore itself with the dissipation of the clots. I was looking at a one- to two-year recovery time instead of the three-month recovery period I could have faced if I had I skipped class to go to the hospital.

Realizing I’d been a month or so away from death, I vowed to myself I would never betray my health again. When I returned to school in spring 2019, I was still facing complications, and I had to stand up for myself. The Disabilities Office on campus turned me away because “pulmonary embolisms did not qualify as a disability.” When my pulmonologist essentially gave up on my case because the scans returned normal, I began taking things into my own hands.

At 20 years old, I had to become my own doctor. When I got home that summer, I started consulting credible sources like Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association. I stumbled across something called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS, a form of dysautonomia where upon sitting or standing upright, your blood flows straight to your legs and causes disruptions in your body.

Looking at the list of symptoms, I instantly realized I had every single one, and I’d been normalizing them for years (in part due to doctors telling me it was anxiety or in my head). Before undergoing tests that confirmed my POTS diagnosis, my professors and classmates found it hard to believe when I explained the way to alleviate my symptoms was to go lay down. I looked completely normal on the outside.

Despite my health challenges, I studied abroad, was initiated into Order of Omega, held three ZTA officer roles in two years and placed in design competitions. I was lucky to have great support systems through my ZTA sisters/advisors, my family, and my friends, but there were also times no one else could advocate for me as fiercely as I could advocate for myself. I’m proud to say I’m stepping off the roller coaster with strength and courage, and I hope my story inspires others to find theirs.

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