Like many teens growing up with eczema, 19-year-old Abigail Llewellyn endured bullying and discrimination at school. Even now, the Louisiana college student struggles with stigmatization in her sorority and at her workplace.
“I work at an ice cream shop, and people stare at it the whole time,” Llewellyn remarks. “I say, ‘Yes, I am serving you ice cream, and I am not contagious. It’s uncomfortable, and I am very self-conscious about it.’”
On top of that, Llewellyn has been coping with the rollercoaster ride of treatment hits and misses for her asthma, allergies and atopic dermatitis since she was 3. “It got to the point where nothing works on me anymore. It can get like that for kids with eczema as they get older.”
Her struggle to find effective medications is what ultimately led her to pursue a career in medicine. “I’m doing pre-med for college as my major and planning on going into eczema research,” she says. “I was looking into organizations to find out more about eczema research and found NEA. I thought, ‘I need to work with them.’”
Leaving an eczema mark on Louisiana
Llewellyn was perusing through the National Eczema Association website, she stumbled across information about Eczema Awareness Month and “told myself, ‘That needs to happen in Louisiana.”
She contacted her state senators and representatives pitching legislation that would declare October Eczema Awareness Month in her state. The office of Sen. Dan W. “Blade” Morrish (R-LA) got in touch with her.
Morrish sponsored the bill with Rep. John Guinn (R-LA). It was unanimously approved in April 2017. Llewellyn was thrilled by the news. “They mailed me the official paper that says it,” she says.
“Now more people will know about eczema,” she adds. “A lot of people in Louisiana don’t seem to know what eczema is. They think, ‘Oh, babies get that,’ and it goes away. They treat it like a cold or the flu. They don’t realize that it’s lifelong.”
Advocating in Washington, D.C., and beyond
NEA was so proud of Llewellyn’s accomplishment, we invited her to represent the eczema community for a number of engagements in Washington, D.C. In early September, she attended both the American Academy of Dermatology Association Conference and the Coalition of Skin Diseases Conference, of which NEA is member. Lewellyn capped off her visit to the nation’s capital by meeting one-on-one with her elected representatives.
“I met with my congressmen to discuss issues involving compounding medications and burden of skin disease,” she says. “My most memorable moment was walking to the legislative offices like, ‘I’m here from a small town in southwest Louisiana, like holy cow! I felt nervous, excited—everything! It was a great opportunity.”
Her advocacy work continues throughout the month of October for Eczema Awareness Month. “I made a shirt that says Eczema Awareness Month and plan to wear it every Friday during the month of October,” Llewellyn says.
She even has her own personal mascot of sorts—a pet hamster named Pancakes who is also living with eczema. “I rescued him from being put down,” she says about Pancakes. “‘There’s nothing I can do,’ the vet said. And that’s when I realized even animals need awareness too.”
Are you ready to become a NEA advocate?
Join National Eczema Association, Llewellyn and the rest of our community of advocates as we stand together to demand better treatments and a cure for this life altering disease. There are many ways you can get involved. Find out more by visiting NEA’s Advocacy Action Center.