KNIGHTSTOWN — Brynnlee Walters just graduated from Knightstown Community High School and overcame narcolepsy to be named valedictorian of her graduating class.
She wants more people to know about the neurological disorder.
"For me, I'm the type where your body acts like it hasn't slept for 48 hours. I can come home, sleep all night, skip dinner, skip everything," Walters said.
She was diagnosed with narcolepsy when she was 7-years-old. At the time, she was the youngest child at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital with the condition. Walters said it was a struggle growing with the disorder
"It has had an impact on me with things like friendship," Walters said. "I would feel embarrassed and up until this last year, I didn't really embrace my condition. I thought people would make fun of me, like you're going to fall asleep all the time. No, that's not what it is and they don't understand that."
It's estimated that one out of every 2,000 people in the United States has narcolepsy. Of that, only 25% are diagnosed and treated according to the Narcolepsy Network. The five key symptoms of Narcolepsy are sleepiness, cataplexy, inability to move at the beginning or end of sleep, vivid hallucinations and fragmented sleep.
Despite dealing with those obstacles, Walters graduated at the top of her class, an accomplishment that helped earn her a scholarship from Project Sleep, a national non-profit that raises awareness about sleep health and sleep disorders.
Through the Jack and Julie Narcolepsy Scholarship, Walters says it's given her a platform to encourage others to talk about their disorder and reminding them they're not alone.
"I actually met a girl through this scholarship," Walters said. "She's going to Purdue where I'm going. We've been talking and that's cool because I'll have someone campus I can relate to."
Walter's neurologist, Dr. Lauren James with Ascension St. Vincent, said there are a few signs parents can watch for which may mean their kid has a sleep disorder like narcolepsy.
"When your child is sleeping excessively, it's really important to talk to your doctor about it and consider proceeding with a sleep study. Some children who are over tired during the day may have sleep apnea or have other conditions that are underlying and need to be evaluated or treated in a different manner," James said.
She also said younger kids may be irritable or hyperactive if they're getting exhausted which could be another sign to get them checked out by a doctor.