- Associated Press - Friday, May 26, 2017

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah (AP) - Nikayla Sampson spent a large chunk of her high school years in looking pale, with her knees to her chest and a heating pad on her stomach.

“It was a sharp, excruciating pain,” the 18-year-old said. “There were times it would be so bad I couldn’t stand up straight or couldn’t get out of bed.”

The Westlake High School senior spent time out of school, actually a lot of it, as doctors put her through test after test to try to discover what was wrong. They initially thought the stomach pain could be caused by Sampson’s anxiety and depression. Then, they thought her food allergies were the cause. But none of those were a full explanation.

Finally, in January, they had their answer. Sampson had gallstones, loads of them, in addition to an ovarian cyst. She wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 15 pounds and couldn’t twist her body too much while her cyst shrank and her gallbladder was removed.

Not surprisingly, her grades suffered because of it.

“It had been tough to get her to do anything, because she didn’t feel good,” said Cathrine Sampson, Nikayla’s mother.

But despite her challenges, Sampson will be graduating with her Westlake High School classmates this week.

Those challenges have included doing makeup work for days she was medically excused from class. Jasmin Britt, her PE teacher, said Sampson was playing through the pain at the beginning of the year. She’s also been eager to make sure Britt puts her grades in.

“To me, that shows a lot of persistence,” Britt said.

While it’s pretty common for high school students to exaggerate their medical circumstances to avoid working out, Sampson, who is also a member of the Future Farmers of America group at the school, has motivated others during a fitness test.

“Really anything she’s involved in, she is choosing to go all in, which is hard, especially when you are going through something like surgery,” Britt said.

Being at home instead of school was likewise rough for Sampson. When she didn’t have work, she would come home from school and sleep for hours. She barely ate, but still gained a significant amount of weight.

Teachers started sending Sampson home sick during her junior year, which she spent at Lehi High School. She spent two years there before transferring to Westlake in Saratoga Springs due to bullying, which included explicit text messages. The bullying led her to change her phone number three times.

Her experience has led to her life motto - don’t let it define you. Sampson runs an Instagram page under that username where she shares her story of being bullied along with writing inspirational messages.

The Lehi teen was at an FFA event in Cedar City when she listened to a speech where a state leader quoted her Don’t Let it Define You Instagram.

“She was quoting me and I just started bawling,” Sampson said. “I was so happy this woman I had never met, that I had impacted her life by sharing my story.”

She’s had a lot of teachers who have been understanding about her medical circumstances, and others who haven’t been as supportive. Even with her medical mystery solved, school was still a challenge.

“Going to school just makes my anxiety really bad just because of everything that has happened to me,” Sampson said.

Following graduation, she plans to take a year off to regroup. She’ll likely spend some time at her aunt’s cattle ranch in Wyoming. After that, she’s considering going into agriculture business or becoming an agriculture teacher.


Information from: The Daily Herald, https://www.heraldextra.com

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