Being a kid is normally some of the least stressful times in a person’s life. Many reminisce on their childhood, but Ashley Parks, a junior studying elementary education, remembers her childhood as something she overcame.

When Parks was a little girl, she cherished the time spent with her brothers and sister. She loved to paint and be outside. Most of all, she loved to swim. Being active was her lifestyle, whether in snow or sunshine, she was always doing something.

When she was 11 years old, Parks woke up on a Sunday, expecting to do her normal Sunday routine of breakfast and then church. But this Sunday was different. As she threw off her blankets, she found red spots on her legs, as if she had been attacked by hundreds of massive spiders.

Confused by the welts, Parks and her mom traveled to the local Instacare to see what was going on. The doctors tested Parks, and her mom did everything she could to keep her daughter calm, reassuring her that everything was going to be okay.

Ashley Parks was admitted into the hospital for tests.

Ashley Parks was admitted into the hospital for tests. Photo credit: Ashley Parks

The doctor came back into the room. He diagnosed Parks with Erythema Multiforme and told her that the spots should go away soon. Relieved, Parks and her mother returned home, keeping a watchful eye on Parks’ legs.

A couple days later, the welts began turning into blisters and a rash, becoming worse than they were before. It was difficult for her to move.

She and her mother returned to the clinic where they were sent to the Primary Children’s Hospital. The doctors concluded that Parks had an immune disorder called Henoch-Schonlein Purpura (HSP). This condition, rather than helping and protecting the body from things, begins attacking itself, especially the kidneys. The doctors said that the disorder would only last six to eight weeks.

“I felt very scared and frightened because I didn’t know what was going on,” Parks said. “My mom, who I look to for answers, didn’t know what was going on either. I was very fearful of what the outcome will be and how it would affect me in my life.”

Rather than lasting weeks, the disease overcame her for three years. The doctors treated Parks with different medications and steroids. The steroids caused Parks to gain weight rapidly, giving her stretch marks that scarred her.

Ashley Parks had so many reactions to the steroids she was given to fight her illness.

Ashley Parks had so many reactions to the steroids she was given to fight her illness. Photo credit: Ashley Parks

The steroids were given to calm the symptoms and stabilize all that was happening. The treatment worked to an extent, but it also had side effects.

Not only was Parks struggling with her physical ailments, her struggles began affecting her mental health.

While in sixth and seventh grade, she watched as many friends distanced themselves from her because of her illness. She began having negative thoughts; she felt she was losing everything. This led to her wondering if life was even worth it.

“I lost friends, and I lost people who I thought were my friends,” Parks said. “I had no control over anything, and so I just wanted to have it be over and have everything be still again.”

Parks’ mother, Arlene Parks, broke down as she saw so many things affecting her daughter.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Arlene Parks said. “I prayed every day for Ashley to have someone reach out and lift her up.”

One night, as Parks contemplated her life, she thought about her family — she couldn’t leave them. At that moment, she felt immense comfort from her Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, as if their arms were around her. She felt and understood that this pain would only be for a short period and that it would not last forever. Parks wiped her tears and got off her bed. She knew this still wasn’t going to be easy, but she knew it wouldn’t last forever.

The next appointment she had with her doctors, they recommended that she start swimming again. This gave Parks a little bit of anxiety due to her stretch marks.

Ashley Parks struggled with this active disease for three years.

Ashley Parks struggled with this active disease for three years. Photo credit: Ashley Parks

Parks had a swim coach named Zack. When he learned that she was going to try to swim again, he encouraged her to get back in the water. As she started swimming, she began losing the weight she had gained. But still, many people asked what had happened to her.

Parks was always nervous about her scars, but Zack was often there to answer the questions for her. He was a tender mercy in her life.

Slowly, the doctors started weaning Parks off the medications. After three years, she had one of her scheduled doctor’s visits. As she sat, the doctor examined her and said this would be her last visit. She was in remission. The disease wasn’t gone, it was asleep.

“I felt so relieved but also shocked,” Ashley said. “God’s promise had been fulfilled. Maybe three years wasn’t the shortest time, but it did end.”

Through it all, Parks learned more about herself.

“No matter what trials we have, no matter the pain we feel, no matter any inconvenience whatsoever in our lives, it is all for a reason of our benefit to turn to our Savior and turn to our Heavenly Father and know that we can get through hard things,” Parks said.

Parks struggled not having control over her healing, but she finally accepted that while she couldn’t do anything about her situation, she could trust in someone who could.

“Something I’ve developed is the fear of not being in control of things,” Parks said. “But I learned that I can get through anything. Anything that comes my way, I can get through with my family and friends and most importantly, my Father in Heaven and Savior.”