When she was growing up, Shannon Strader experienced constant pain and nausea. When she was a senior in high school, she was diagnosed with a rare kidney and vascular disease, Posterior Nutcracker Syndrome, in which the vein from her left kidney is anatomically displaced and compressed between her spine and aorta.
During the summer between high school and college, Strader underwent the first of three surgeries to treat her condition. As a college sophomore, struggling to sustain her college education and social life while navigating her health issues, she looked for ways to connect and share support with other students with similar experiences.
“There was no national organization to support people with all types of disabilities – only specific types of illnesses,” Strader said. Because it is extremely rare, no support group exists specifically for her illness.
So Strader, now a second-year medical resident at UofL, created a blog to share her experience and to connect with other college students with long-term health problems. She went on to establish Bella Soul, a non-profit organization to provide scholarships and emotional support to students facing chronic illness or disability. Strader assembled a board of directors that included college classmates and other advisers, established the 501(c)3 corporation with support from family, friends and her school – the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and began accepting donations.
Bella Soul awarded the first three scholarships in 2013.
“Since then, we have awarded 50 scholarships to young adult students to help with medical bills or other expenses related to their illness or disability,” Strader said. Strader said Bella Soul receives 50-to-100 scholarship applicants for every scholarship available and has given between 2 and 10 scholarships each year, depending on funds raised that year.
Reviewing all the applicants is time consuming, Strader said, but she is glad to be able to connect with each of the students, who apply by sharing their stories and proof they are students.
“It is exhausting, but all very amazing,” she said.
As an undergraduate, Strader studied neurobiology and stem cell sciences and worked in the regenerative biology lab of James Thomson at the Morgridge Institute for Research at UW – Madison. Her interest in stem cells is motivated by her own illness as well as that of her twin sister, Lauryn, who had cerebral palsy and died when they were 8 years old.
After graduating from UW – Madison, Strader obtained a master’s in biomedical sciences and received her medical degree from Lincoln Memorial University – DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Knoxville, Tennessee. She chose UofL for her residency training in physical medicine and rehabilitation because of the extensive inpatient opportunities available to the residents at UofL Health – Frazier Rehab Institute. She hopes to pursue clinical care as well as conduct biomedical research into neurological disabilities such as cerebral palsy.
“I came to UofL because the program was one of only a couple of places that offer good inpatient experience caring for individuals with complex disabilities,” she said. “My main goal is to figure out better treatment options for these individuals. Their treatment options have not changed in 20 years.”