Hayden-Pless overcomes, advocates for change

Erin Conolly, Staff Reporter

pic-5Greta Hayden-Pless has had more things to focus on than college applications and acceptance letters during her senior year. For Hayden-Pless, a bleeding disorder, called von Willebrand Disorder (VWD) has put the everyday challenges that plague others into perspective. The blood of people with VWD does not clot properly, and symptoms include nose bleeds and gastro-intestinal bleeding.
Following her diagnosis at age 16, Hayden-Pless joined the Hemophilia Association of the Capital Area and the Virginia Hemophilia Foundation where she found support.
“When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know what to think. I had never heard of this disease and I didn’t know what to expect,” Hayden-Pless said. “It was from the support of the bleeding disorder community that I have changed when it comes to my disorder.”
Hayden-Pless has learned the importance of advocacy on both the state and federal levels and of educating people about bleeding disorders.
“Through bleeding support groups and programs, I have been able to attend advocacy training, which I put to use to lobby for bleeding disorders and speak up for legislation that can help with the availability of medications,” Hayden-Pless said. “The bleeding community has educated me about various aspects of bleeding disorders through educational dinners, seminars, and teen retreats.”
At a recent retreat Hayden-Pless was a teen leader, and participated in the making and filming of a public service announcement. Another girl held a “girls’ discussion” with the younger girls to help them transition to adulthood.
“These retreats have had such a positive influence in my life. I have applied to be a volunteer this summer at Camp Holiday Trails in Charlottesville, Virginia, a camp for kids with special medical conditions. It provides an atmosphere that I love,” Hayden-Pless said. “I met a lot of teenagers there that have the same condition as me and I want to help others with their bleeding disorders just like my community helped me.”
Hayden-Pless’ interest in lobbying started when she attended Virginia Hemophilia Foundation Richmond Day, where families gather to share their stories with their representatives. Her advocacy activities include going to Capitol Hill to talk with congressmen and senators, and she presented an award to a congressman as a person with lifelong VWD and also presented a speech at a congressional reception. That day she developed bleeds in both of her feet and was not able to walk due to the pain.
“I had school the next day and instead of miss that day, I came to school in a wheelchair; it was one of the most difficult days I have ever experienced,” Hayden-Pless said. “While the school may say its wheelchair accessible, it’s really not. My disease has caused me to miss a lot of school and as a result I have had to teach myself a number of different subjects. I missed out on a lot, but because of it all, I now know how to adapt to different situations.”
Senior Mya Payne, one of Hayden-Pless’ good friends, describes her as positive and inspiring through her persistence with challenges, including symptoms like painful swelling in the joints.
“She is strong because she never lets anything get to her. Her outlook on life is probably one of the best,” Payne said. “She has her goals set, and she normally succeeds in getting them. She’s ambitious and actually very silly; she has a genuinely sweet personality.”
Hayden-Pless’ goals include attending Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the fall and helping those who have medical problems.
“I want to be there for them,” Hayden-Pless said. “I’m going to start a group for those, not only with bleeding disorders, but medical conditions- or anyone who just needs a little support.”
She will be able to create her own major through a program called A Point of Emphasis; she can focus on what she wants to learn and add to it as it grows. She plans to major in marine biology and study sharks, an interest she has had since she was six.
“I want to be a marine biologist because I love the ocean. I want to find things that no one ever expected to find,” Hayden-Pless said. “Sharks have always intrigued me and I have always known that I want to pursue science in my future, so it is only natural that my favorite subjects in school are anything to do with science.”
Family has been a big support for Hayden-Pless and helps her maintain her positivity.
“No one in my family has ever let their medical conditions get in the way of their lives or stop them from doing anything, I have learned from their examples,” Hayden-Pless said. “Watching my mom fight through pain some days and still work to support her family has placed a drive in me; to be more than a disease, to do what I have to and to do what I love no matter what.”