By Allysia Fine
As a child, Sarah Harrison loved to dance.
She was a normal little girl with lots of energy. Growing up in a charismatic church, one of Harrison’s favorite things to do was dance in worship.
Like most children, she enjoyed being active and participating in sports such as swimming and basketball.
At 12 years old, Harrison was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that results in a chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder that may affect many tissues and organs but principally attacks flexible joints.
The dancing stopped as the disease first hit her legs and then her ankles. She started playing her guitar more when it first began until it eventually got worse and she couldn’t do that either.
“The disease was certainly difficult to deal with, and my life had to change drastically because I was so full of energy as a child, I never sat still for more than 10 minutes,” she said.
It progressed as the doctors treated her with pain medications and tried to get the correct balance going to fight the arthritis. She would take strong pain medications throughout the day and would be able to sleep only three hours at a time.
“All I could do was lay in bed and hurt all the time, so I didn’t get to do high school,” she said.
When Harrison was 16 and started getting the disease under control, she took a high school equivalency test online. She said she picked up enough material from home-schooling for the first part of her life and used common sense to pass the test with all A’s.
When Harrison started at Amarillo College, she could barely walk and had to ride a scooter to class.
“At that point I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to have a normal life, graduate, have a job where I could take care of myself, and I didn’t know if I would ever have a relationship because I was just so sick all the time.”
There were days she couldn’t even wash her own hair because the pain in her shoulders was too much to handle. Sarah and her parents had to cut her hair short because it became too difficult to maintain.
“I couldn’t sleep most of the time and had to take all kinds of medications,” she said. “I had to take pain pills to go to drawing class so I could try to hold a pencil long enough to draw. It was really discouraging for a while.
We found a medication that controls it better, and now it is more manageable.”
After studying at AC for six semesters, Harrison is preparing to graduate this spring. She also is working part-time at Spellman and Associates, where she began this semester as a Web developer. She said she has been guaranteed a full-time position following her upcoming graduation.
“It was really weird that I got the job, because I wasn’t looking for a job,” she said. “They found my resume online even though my resume doesn’t yet reflect that Web coding is what I want to do. My resume has all this stuff about designing on it. It was really weird that they contacted me about a development job, but it was exactly what I wanted. It is an answered prayer.
“They want me to work full-time as soon as I graduate this semester. I am so incredibly excited because up until a couple of years ago, the idea of having a full-time job seemed really out of my reach.”
She still deals with the pain of having rheumatoid arthritis, and some days it gets to the point where it is hard to focus on class. Her adviser, Brenda Walsh, described Harrison as “the epitome of persistence.”
Although she could have given up when things were difficult, Harrison pushed through the pain.
“I don’t know if I would have made it if it weren’t for all the wonderful people God has placed in my life,” she said. “I have the most amazing family. My parents and my brother and my sister-in-law are my best friends.
They were always just so great and so supportive, encouraging me to push through it and find ways around it and do things my own way.”
She has a “normal” life, as she describes it. She has a job, is in the process of graduating and has a boyfriend, Vince Andregetta, who she said calls her “‘principessa,’ which is Italian for ‘princess.’”
“My angels would definitely be my family and my teachers here at AC and now my boyfriend Vince,” she said.
She and Andregetta met last semester and since their first date, she said he meets with her every Monday and Wednesday to carry her supplies to drawing class. She mentions how she never thought she would be able to find someone like him.
“My health issues scare off a lot people,” she said. “Most guys don’t want to have to take care of someone right from the start. The last thing that I would ever want is to inconvenience someone.”
With encouragement from her family, teachers and friends, she has been able to come this far. But she gives most of the credit elsewhere.
“I give all glory to God that I was able to make it through those few years when I was just miserable all the time and the fact that I was actually able to accomplish something and take classes here at AC,” Harrison said.
She said she worships in thanks every Wednesday.
“I have come from the point where I could only take one or two classes per semester to now being able to take two classes and work 30 hours a week,” she said. “I am able to have a normal life now.”