By Kate Hunger
Second-year Speech-Language Pathology graduate student Joy-Alexandra Sabattus was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at the age of 17.
“I wanted nothing to do with this disease,” she said of her initial response to her diagnosis. “I was very hard-headed and would push myself harder in a lot of ways.”
With time, Sabattus realized she needed to connect with others going through similar experiences. As an undergraduate she helped start Project Hope for Juvenile Arthritis, a nonprofit that sends care packages to children with juvenile arthritis.
“After I went over that hump, I started looking into other ways to get involved with others who have the disease and arthritis, too, so I could have someone my age to talk about it with,” she said.
Having an inflammatory disease places extra challenges on students, she said.
“I know that in undergrad, I was in the hospital and out of school for a month, related to my condition,” she said.
Last year, her first in the MS-SLP program, Sabattus wrote a scholarship essay on the topic of using her disease to empower rather than limit her. She learned on her birthday in April that she received a $15,000 AbbieVie Immunology Scholarship, designed to support students with inflammatory diseases as they pursue higher education.
Sabattus discovered speech-language pathology while considering careers that help others.
“I considered going to medical school, but then I talked to my rheumatologist, and his wife was a speech pathologist,” she said. “Everyone I talked to about speech pathology was very excited about the profession and had so many wonderful things to say about it.”
To prepare for graduate school, Sabattus worked as a speech-language pathology assistant. She spent time with patients recovering from strokes and discovered her own health condition helped her relate to patients.
“I was helping people through my disability by using my disability to understand what my patients were going through,” she said.
That understanding motivates Sabattus to take action.
“I enjoy public speaking, and I enjoy advocating for other people with disabilities,” she said. “That’s how we get funding. There is a lot of importance in teaching other people what we can do.”