UM student balances school and life with anemia


Kara Deboer.

Madison McGrath
Oxford Stories

There are many limitations a 20-year-old college student experiences while conquering the world on her own, including the amount of food and free time one has for the semester. This independent lifestyle comes with a lot of pressure, and it may be difficult to adjust.

It can be even more challenging if you are anemic. Anemia is the deficiency or inability to retain iron or hemoglobin in the human body.

Kara Deboer, a sophomore University of Mississippi student, was diagnosed with anemia at age 17. When Deboer was first diagnosed, her iron levels were only slightly below the 75-100 levels. When she turned 19, anemia changed her life.

“Last summer, I went home, and I was starting to have blurred vision and headaches, along with increased symptoms I mentioned earlier,” Deboer said, “so I went back to the doctor. When they drew my blood, my iron level was at 11, and it is supposed to be anywhere between 75-100.

“The doctor said my organs would start to shut down if I didn’t start an extremely strict iron-filled diet. I could see my mom’s face go pale when the doctor said that. I was monitored extremely closely for the entirety of the summer.”

Prior to her diagnosis, Deboer exercised on a regular basis and ate typical college-student-on-a-budget foods. However, the diagnoses took an expensive and difficult turn.

Her diet modifications now include fortified cereal that has 150 percent of daily iron in a cup every day for breakfast; broccoli and other green vegetables, with a combination of citrus fruits because it helps absorb iron better for lunch daily; and for dinner, she is forced to eat kale with beans and any other veggies.

“I am unable to drink caffeine,” Deboer said, “because my body reacts negatively to it now. Also, I can’t have dairy an hour before or after taking an iron supplement because it will cancel out the affects.

“I can only eat other foods, like peanut butter jelly sandwiches or pasta, once I get enough of my daily iron intake from an iron supplement and three vitamins every night with my dinner.”


As for physical changes, Deboer’s body went through various distortions. “I lost a lot of weight, got super pale, and got light-headed or fainted whenever I attempted my normal exercise routines after I was diagnosed,” she said. “I also lost a ton of my hair, and now it doesn’t grow anymore.”

As a college student, sleep is important to performing well in classes. “When I wasn’t anemic, I was super active, and didn’t need a lot of sleep, but after my diagnosis, I had to nap every day and couldn’t be active for long periods of time without being exhausted. I felt super weak all of the time.”

Deboer said it was tough changing her daily routine. The attention to detail required for an anemic diet is essential. The discipline to deal with severe iron deficiency alone is extreme. That on top of schoolwork can be stressful.

“Monitoring my iron levels is the worst,” she said. “When I was first diagnosed, I was taking two iron pills a day, which each had 250 percent of a typical daily value for an adult, so pills alone, I was consuming 500 percent a day.”


Kara Deboer

Deboer’s social life was also altered. “I got really bad anxiety this summer when my iron was super low, which is also a side effect of anemia,” she said. “I never wanted to hang out with people and got anxious being around large groups, which is so unlike me. I almost couldn’t come back to school this fall because my doctor was so worried.”

Deboer’s roommate, Jessica Strachen, said her friend’s anemia has affected all the roommates’ diets. “Though sometimes it’s a little depressing to only see healthy foods around the house, we have definitely stayed healthy and in shape because of her,” she said.

Although Deboer has endured the negative affects of anemia in her collegiate career, she is still searching for a reason why she was diagnosed with iron deficiency. “They have no idea because nobody else in my family has it,” she said, “but my body can’t retain iron for some reason.”

Today, Deboer continues to maintain a healthy lifestyle, consistently working out and getting the right amount of iron in her body. She hopes one day her anemic level will balance itself out without having to endure daily tedious tasks.




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