Every once in a while we come across people who inspire, encourage and delight us, each one is different and unique in the best possible way. Often time these people are all around us and we simply overlook them. But once they have touched a life it is hard to ignore their positive presence.
One individual who fits this description is Whitnee Ice, a communications student at Northwest. Seemingly an average college student on an average day Ice rolls out of bed around 9 a.m. and heads to class. She spends her afternoons with her friends in the Union and her spare time in Wells Hall, the Baptist Student Union and the library. Ice is a Communication Rhetoric major, planning to use her degree to motivate and inspire others.
The thing about Ice that makes her unique is that she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) her freshman year of high school.
“This day was long awaited,” Ice said. “I was born with the syndrome, however since it is an uncommon disorder the doctors had a difficult time diagnosing me. Even once I had the official diagnosis, I didn’t realize how much of a life changer it truly was going to be.”
EDS is a connective tissue disorder, there are 13 types of EDS, each with different symptoms, but the most common symptoms are overly flexible joints, fragile skin that can bruise or tear easily and early onset, chronic musculoskeletal pain.
“My EDS affects me daily in my fatigue, joint pain and chronic health issues throughout my body. I work to plan my day accordingly to what I want to accomplish in a day. This way, I do not over strain my body and make myself sicker,” Ice said.
Due to her EDS Ice often has to use a motorized wheelchair to get around campus. She is the only person on campus using a wheelchair and while most of campus is accessible to her, there are some annoyances. Accompanying Ice across campus it is easy to see some of her difficulties. Classroom doors can be complicated for her to open, doorways that have metal lips can be complicated for her to cross through, her mailbox is located on the top row and in her chair is difficult to reach.
When Ice started at Northwest she said one of the difficulties she ran into were steep hills. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, sidewalks that have a slope of five percent or more are technically ramps and need to be marked. Not every sidewalk with a steep slope at Northwest is marked. Only two sidewalks on campus are marked. Ice said there are definitely more than two sidewalks that her chair has difficulty going up or down, but she has learned where those places are and how to get around them.
Ice said the funniest thing about being in a wheelchair are the reactions she gets from people who may not have known her long. People see her in her chair when she wasn’t in it before, or see her walking when they had previously only seen her in her chair and often react dramatically.
“Some people may be over joyed at the sight of me walking when they previously had only seen me in my chair. When people see me go from walking to being in a wheelchair, it is an interesting experience,” Ice said. “Exclamations of shock and concern are the most common response. For example, some of the comments I have had are: ‘What happened to you!?’ or ‘What’d you do?’ or ‘How’d this happen?’”
Ice said she used to find these comments difficult to deal with, but over time has been able to laugh at them and look at them as funny memories. This is only one example of Ice’s optimism and positive outlook on life.
“My motivator in life is life itself,” Ice said. “I love the life I have and that is motivation enough to make me want to grow. The fact that my illness has many unknown factors, makes me want to live every day to its fullest. I never know if I will have the opportunity to try something new again, so why not now?”
Ice’s close friend Nate Quick said sometimes he doesn’t understand how she can be so optimistic.
“Whitnee’s impervious optimism always amazes me,” Quick said. “Having heard about the struggles in her life she has faced before meeting me, and trying to walk alongside her in the struggles she currently faces, it never ceases to amaze me that she can always find the time to smile and to laugh. I honestly can’t stand it sometimes. So much will seem to be going wrong, or on the verge of it, and she never stops smiling, laughing, or having faith that it will all work out. I’m telling you, whatever the internal fire is that keeps her going, I don’t ever see it burning out.”
Ice said that internal fire is her faith in Jesus Christ.
“I love the life God gave me and I know he has a plan for me,” Ice said. “My favorite Bible verse is 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18, ‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ I love this verse because of its display of how I am being transformed by Christ.”
While her faith ignites her fiery passion for life and her optimism, Ice said she does have a hard time dealing with her EDS from time to time. Due to her EDS, other medical conditions can occur or worsen.
During her time at Northwest Ice has been diagnosed with Osteopenia, which is when bone density is lower than normal peak density but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis, seizures many other health complications that she says make it difficult for her to keep up with her peers.
“My biggest struggle in life has been accepting the fact that I will always live a life of unknown,” Ice said. “I never know what is going to happen next with EDS. There are not any defined stages to this syndrome. There aren’t any good ways to guess what medical situation will come next. This then causes a problem of never really feeling like I can plan life events. A few examples of these are uncertainty of job security in the future, whether or not I will be healthy enough to finish a semester, or start a new semester. These are issues I wish I never had to think about, but these are the cards I’ve been dealt.”
Despite her circumstances, you won’t see her moping around. Friends often praise Ice for her lively personality, compassion and positive outlook on life.
Brianna Daniels said she first met Ice in the Multimedia Lab in Wells Hall as she ran in excited to tell her friends about some coffee she had found. Ice was interested in the story of the coffee and from that moment their friendship blossomed.
“I was excited that she was excited about what I was doing and she seemed so sweet and vibrant,” Daniels said. “She was really open with everyone and quick to get to know all of us as well. She invited us into every part of her life so quickly after that one night of getting to know her.ds about coffee she had found.”
Daniels said Ice is a motivating factor in her life.
“She always has such a desire to learn new skills and such a positive attitude about her no matter what she is doing,” Daniels said. “It’s so easy to take some of those same positive vibes and get excited about whatever she is doing. She makes me want to be excited about everything and continue to make time to learn new things and just enjoy life.”
Quick’s friendship with Ice blossomed in the same fashion.
“I first met Whitnee as a fellow student working in the Multi-Media Lab,” Quick said. “I worked as a student lab assistant and Whitnee asked for help on a project she was working on. Both of our goofy senses of humor immediately emerged and we laughed together as we looked up solutions to her editing problem. From there, we made a note to say hi to one another whenever we saw each other around Wells Hall, and have only grown to be better friends ever since.”
Quick said if he wanted anyone to know one thing about Ice it would be that she is a wonderful example to the student body, as Job was to his community.
“She has faced so much that no one would ever ask for, and that she would never deserve, yet her faith and optimism never yields,” Quick said. “Even when everyone around her is constantly asking ‘Why?’ or ‘How?’ she never questions and never backs down. I would be lying if I said it never got to her, though. She definitely has bad days, doesn’t feel like smiling, or just wants all her issues to go away, just like the rest of us would. But from what I’ve seen of Whitnee Ice, she takes every new challenge in stride, only stopping to ask if you’re coming along for the ride. Every new challenge is an opportunity to overcome and praise God, and every new opportunity is a challenge to grow and test herself. She has made it through so much, and to think that she still has so much potential life to live, who wouldn’t smile along with her?”