Growing up, Allyson Hannah always tried to hide the compression garment she wears on her left leg.
On March 6, 2015 – Lymphedema Awareness Day – the Colorado State environmental sociology major decided to stop hiding the tan sleeve that controls the swelling caused by her condition. She put on a dress and went to the Oval to pose for a photo to inspire others to embrace what makes them different. She now considers herself an activist in the lymphedema and disability community, telling her story with a video on YouTube that has gone far and wide.
“I had always worn jeans to hide my leg, but I’m not as self-conscious anymore,” says Hannah, who is graduating with her bachelor’s degree this weekend.
Primary lymphedema is a rare condition caused by problems with the development of lymph vessels in the body. Daily management includes wrapping her limb every night, wearing a thigh-high compression garment, and elevating the leg as much as possible. The Estes Park native says the condition she was born with — coupled with her CSU education — has inspired her to pursue work in which she can “help people harness their passions, despite any adversity they face.”
She’s faced her fair share. During an Education Abroad trip to Peru, she was hiking in a rural area near Cusco when she was attacked by a pack of dogs. She was flown back to Miami for the first of a series of rabies shots, but immediately returned to Peru to complete her trip.
“I was pretty traumatized,” Hannah recalls. “I had gotten $7,000 in scholarship funds for the trip, but faced $8,000 in medical bills.”
However, she persevered. Hannah, the recipient of a diversity scholarship from International Study Abroad, a federal Gilman Scholarship, and a Mona Mitchell Scholarship, credits Laura Thornes and Nicole Wooton in International Programs with providing key support. She’s gone on to participate in — and lead — Alternative Spring Break trips and works in the Office of International Programs.
Hannah was also inspired by her job with No Barriers in Fort Collins, an organization that provides transformative experiences to youth, veterans and people with disabilities. She says her interest in studying human impacts on the environment stemmed from an exchange trip she took to Estes Park’s sister city in Costa Rica while in high school. Hannah has gone on to minor in Spanish and international development.
“I just kind of followed my passion,” she concludes. “If adversity has taught me anything, it is to have courage, and if I can help people with my own story, then that’s what matters.”