From high school to home school and back

Eczema Awareness Month

By Jose Torres

Published On: Aug 4, 2020

Last Updated On: Sep 2, 2020

My name is Kyle, and I am 17 years old. I live in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. I have been living with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis since I was a few months old.

During elementary school, I was often sick with eczema flares, asthma and allergies, but things were not too bad. I was close with my teachers and had some friends that I would hang out with during breaks. The kids at school may not have understood my eczema, but they were used to it, so nobody made fun of me or stared much.

When I started high school, things changed quickly for me. Our school uniforms are made of polyester, which I am unable to wear because it causes my skin to flare. This became a huge issue with my teachers and vice principal, as I was not always able to have pants or shirts with the logo. But I did my best.

The stress that came from dealing with these issues caused one of the worst flares I had ever experienced in my life — which made being a teenager so much worse! Kids and even some staff would stare at my hands, arms, legs and face. I couldn’t concentrate due to my lack of sleep and the constant itch, which made it tough to get through the day.

The following year, things got even worse. Kids started calling me names like “Snakeskin” and took photos of me to share on social media saying I had a disease and was contagious. My flares became unbearable. I fell into a deep depression and wasn’t sure if I’d ever find a way out of it.

I couldn’t go to school anymore because I was in so much pain and unable to get through a day without breaking down. I tried home-schooling, but it made me feel even more isolated. I couldn’t see a future for myself. Eczema controlled everything in my life. I didn’t know anyone else who was living with this disease, so I struggled to learn how to help myself.

Then NEA helped me find my voice

Once I found National Eczema Association, my life started to change drastically. I was fortunate to be able to attend Expo ’18 in Chicago where I met so many people who understood what I was dealing with and how I felt. I also met two doctors there as well — Peter Lio and Richard Aron— who taught me about Dupixent, the Aron Regimen and alternative therapies I had never heard of before.

Attending Expo ’19 in Scottsdale, Arizona, last year was so inspiring it made me want to share my personal story. When I got home, I was able to talk about my eczema in a way that I could not before. I returned to school part-time and started a co-op, which helped me to start thinking about my future.

I’ve traveled to Washington, D.C., and Toronto to speak with medical decision-makers to try to make them understand how hard it is to grow up with eczema and why we need to have more education, safer therapies and better access to medications.

I will be graduating high school next year, which I never thought I’d be able to do. I have found friends around the world who understand me and who I can turn to whenever I feel like I am slipping back into that dark place.

I no longer have to hide my eczema because I know that I have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Just by stepping up and speaking out I have been able to help others that are suffering like I was.

Kyle Bruner is a 17-year-old eczema warrior living in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.