Abby Sanderson likes to show her school pride: Husker posters adorn her dorm room walls, while her backpack has decorative Husker pins she made herself.
But her pride isn’t just on the outside.
“I’m a hemophiliac,” Sanderson beamed. “Nothing can stop me from bleeding Husker red. Certainly not my diseased body.”
Hemophilia is a genetic disorder that affects the body’s ability to clot blood correctly, making every cut and scrape a potential emergency. Her condition has caused serious problems in the past, but it hasn’t impaired her school spirit. In fact, she uses it as a tool to show her Husker pride.
“During the Big 12 championship game in 2009, I got so upset, I broke a plate and cut my hand really deeply,” Sanderson recalled. “I don’t really remember the two weeks after that. My dad said he thought I died.”
“But I’d rather die a painfully slow death of blood loss than lose to Texas,” she added.
Abby’s mother, Catherine, was proud of her daughter’s ability to handle the obstacles she faces.
“She’s my brave little girl,” Catherine said. “Who cares if her body can’t coagulate blood correctly after a blood vessel breaks? That just means she wants to share what’s on the inside with the rest of the world.”
Abby, a season ticket holder for both volleyball and football, loves being given the opportunity to show her school spirit. When the game is close, she’s been known to scratch her arms with her fingernails until they are covered in blood, then waves them in the air, a move she calls “husker wings.”
“It’s a hit at games,” she said. “People really react when I do that. I get dizzy pretty fast, though.”
Dr. John Slessing, a vascular surgeon at the Mayo clinic, was quick to discourage Sanderson’s actions.
“What a horrible thing to do to yourself,” Slessing said. “Does she not understand what hemophilia is?”
Sanderson dismissed Slessing’s warning.
“I’m not going to let any doctors or diseases slow me down,” she said, pulling a knife from her pocket and thrusting it at her thigh.
“Go Big Red,” she said as the blood pooled on the floor and her eyes began to droop. “Go Big Red.”