When teenager Madison “Maddie” Harper was asked to make one wish, she didn’t choose to meet a favorite celebrity or take a trip to Europe.
She chose debt-free college.
Harper was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in June 2015 as an Oak Ridge High School junior, and her dream came true Friday when she finished moving into Draper Hall as a Sacramento State freshman. The Make-A-Wish Foundation and two anonymous donors are paying for four years of her tuition and books, and a year in the dorm with meals for the El Dorado Hills 18-year-old.
Sacramento State charges $6,900 a year for tuition, $13,816 for room and board, and it estimates that books are an additional $1,792 annually.
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“I’m excited. I’m so excited,” she gushed Friday. “There are fears with college in general – that’s normal. You have to jump in and learn to swim.”
“We have been calling it a very noble wish,” said Jennifer Stolo, CEO of Make-A-Wish Northeastern California and Northern Nevada. “She had been recently diagnosed, and she didn’t want to burden her family any further because of medical bills.”
Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease of the brain and spinal cord that causes fatigue, walking difficulty, numbness or tingling in the body and face, and vision problems, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“All my junior year I could not figure out why I was so tired all of a sudden,” Harper said Friday. “Like I’m falling asleep at 7 p.m., coming home, taking naps until like 6, getting up and doing some homework and going to bed and sleeping through my alarm. I couldn’t figure it out. I was getting so much sleep.”
Exhaustion and a loss of balance prompted the Harper family to seek medical advice. They didn’t expect the doctor’s visit to end in an ambulance ride to the UC Davis Medical Center, where a spinal tap led to the diagnosis.
Friday, however, Harper was a typical freshman – one of 1,700 new Sacramento State students moving into the dorms before classes start Monday. Accompanied by her parents, Jason and Lynette, each sporting Hornet gear with the Sacramento State logo, the communications major helped move belongings and pile pillows on her gray and pink bedding.
She met her new roommate, Madalyn Coughran, 18, of Turlock, who goes by Mady, and marveled that she had picked complementary gray and teal bedding for her twin bed.
Harper gives herself three injections a week, eats a gluten-free diet and exercises in order to keep her disease at bay. She has good days and bad days.
“Definitely some days, like yesterday, was exhausting moving everything in,” Harper said.
It’s likely that Harper is the only Sacramento State student with a blog chronicling her experiences with MS. She started the blog to avoid the endless questions of friends, then to reach out to other teens with the disease and finally to help write her college essay.
Sacramento State staff have helped as much as possible, allowing the Harpers to move Madison’s belongings in over two days instead of just Friday. They found scholarships to help keep the price of tuition down for donors and made sure Harper was on the first floor of her dorm so she can avoid stairs. The freshman has also met with the chef at the dining commons to discuss her nutritional needs.
President Robert Nelsen was at Move-In Day on Friday and had met with the Harpers previously. “Dreams come true at Sac State,” he said. “We are thrilled to be part of Maddie’s dreams.”
Jason Harper said he is very thankful for the gifts given to his daughter. Having a dorm room on campus will allow her to rest between classes and avoid the 25-mile commute to El Dorado Hills every day, he said.
Madison is optimistic. “Everybody has something – a challenge,” she said, as she sat on a picnic table behind Draper Hall on Friday. “I’m not the only one. I know there are people who have it way worse than I do.”