Junior Sarah Swanson’s time at Fairfield has been very different from those of most students at the University. When she was a sophomore, Swanson took a medical leave for 18 months because of her ongoing battle with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), a disease categorized by profound fatigue, sleep abnormalities, pain and other symptoms that are made worse by exertion, according to the Mayo Clinic. Swanson had the disease since she was 11, but wasn’t diagnosed until she was 20.
To spread awareness about her disease and the struggles many others with the same condition are fighting, Swanson has worked with the Student Nurses Association to host a screening of the documentary “UNREST,” directed by Dr. Jennifer Brea of Harvard University, who battles with the disease herself. The documentary will be released in theaters on Sept. 22 and Fairfield will be having a free screening of the film on Sept. 23 at 2 p.m., making it the first University in the country to show the documentary, according to Swanson.
The documentary tells the story of Brea’s fight to overcome ME and details how as a Harvard PhD student engaged to the love her life, she was struck down by a mysterious fever that left her bedridden. Brea’s illness becomes worse and she’s eventually diagnosed with ME. Her and her husband are left to find a way to live with the consequences of the lifelong illness.
Swanson spoke of her struggle to cope with the condition for the past year and a half, and why hosting this screening on campus means so much to her. “Working with Dr. Jose Montoya of Stanford University, who is a leading specialist on this disease, I was able to come to a new, not 100 percent better, but 60 percent better than what I was before. I wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for him and my medical doctors and the team that was behind me,” Swanson said.
Prior to her return to the University, Swanson reached out to the Student Nurses Association to see if they would be interested in hosting a screening of the film. “It started from just this tiny little idea and it has blown up into this huge event,” Swanson added.
With the screening of “UNREST,” Swanson hopes to share with the Fairfield community what it’s like to live with ME, “how controversial this disease is, how unknown it is and how we need to find not only a treatment, but a cure of some kind, because most people suffer in silence. And there’s over 2 million Americans who suffer from this illness.”
Swanson explained how often times, ME patients like herself are told that the disease is only in their head and that the symptoms they face are just side effects of depression or anxiety, which is why the disease is considered controversial.
The event is open to all Fairfield students and faculty members, but Swanson noted that the screening will be especially useful for nursing students.
“The point of this event is to not only expose the community, but especially nursing students and pre-health students to this illness so that when they become professionals in the future they know what this illness is, they know how terrible it is and they know how to treat patients correctly or at least go about treating them,” Swanson noted.
The screening will open with a video presentation by Dr. Jose Montoya, Swanson’s doctor, who also has a niece attending the University. Swanson explained that the video will contain information about his research and the significance of the illness.