Commencement Stories – Julian Hartzell

Views his chronic illness as inspiration to one day serve the Riverside community

Julian was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when he was a sophomore in high school.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( – It’s safe to say, Julian Hartzell didn’t get the full college experience, even if he did attend UC Riverside for four years, and will graduate with a degree in biochemistry. He couldn’t live on campus, pull an all-nighter, or pick-up fast food whenever he wanted. That’s because Julian lives with Crohn’s Disease, a chronic illness with no cure.

I can’t be as care free throughout my day as most college students can,” Julian said.

Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease, and causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, increased restroom use, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. It forces Julian to take note of the closest restroom wherever he goes, to always sit in the back corner of every classroom, be conscious of what he eats, take more than 45 pills a day, give himself an injection of Humira every week, and always get a good night’s sleep.

Julian wants to become a doctor and one day serve the Riverside community. “I want to work with people who are going through the same thing."

Julian wants to become a doctor and one day serve the Riverside community. “I want to work with people who are going through the same thing.”

Julian was diagnosed in 2008, when he was a sophomore in high school. At first, doctors couldn’t tell what was going on. He started experiencing severe weight loss, night sweats, cramping, he couldn’t keep his food down, and noticed an increase in bathroom usage. Finally doctors decided to do a colonoscopy, and realized he was suffering from Crohn’s Disease. He spent the next two months in the hospital.

It was a real struggle,” he explained. “I started questioning everything. ‘How will I move forward in life? Do I go to college? How do I take the SATs? How will this impact what I’m going to do?’ Until finally I stopped with all the thoughts and questions and decided that I will not let the disease define me, but empower me.”

So, Julian started using all of that hospital time, as study time, and it worked out in his favor. He was named a top 25 Riverside teen for overcoming adversity his junior year, and ended up graduating in the top two percent of his high school class. Once out of the hospital, he didn’t let it hinder him – he continued to play sports and participate in clubs and activities. He also became a camp counselor at The Newman Foundation’s Painted Turtle, a summer camp for chronically ill children.

When it came time to choose a college, Julian decided to stay close to home. Having grown up in Riverside, UCR made the most sense. But that’s not the factor he took into consideration, he said he was also impressed by the university when he toured the campus.

I noticed a lack of diversity at other universities. I toured Columbia, UC Irvine, UCLA, but you didn’t see as many cultures and ethnic backgrounds there,” Julian said. “I loved the feel of UCR, and I was impressed by the amount of recognition the university received from outside sources.”

He said his parents have been his biggest inspiration, simply because of their devotion to him.

He said his parents have been his biggest inspiration, simply because of their devotion to him.

Having always been intrigued by science, and now with his diagnosis, Julian decided to major in biochemistry. His sophomore year, he became involved in research with Professor Prue Talbot. Between his junior and senior year, he had to spend another two months in the hospital, barely avoiding surgery and being released less than a week before the start of the fall quarter, but it was never something he disclosed to his instructors. “I never told anyone because I didn’t want to be graded on a different scale. I didn’t want any special courtesies.”

Through it all, Julian said his parents have inspired him the most. “Their devotion to me is inspiring. When I didn’t have the energy to drive myself to school, my mom would drop me off. When I couldn’t cook for myself, my mom would make me food. She would even sleep in the hospital with me. I am truly grateful for their sacrifice.”

Julian is now applying to medical schools. His hope is to become a specialty physician, concentrating on gastro immunology. He wants to serve the community that has been there for him. “I want to work with people who are going through the same thing. And I want to come back to this area because there are few specialists here.”

He hopes his experience will serve as a lesson for all children and young adults dealing with Crohn’s Disease. “I want them to know there’s nothing to be ashamed of.” And could one day inspire them to find strength in their illness, as he did, and ultimately use it as a tool to push themselves, and make a difference. “It has helped me enjoy the little things in life. If I wake up and I am feeling good that day – I know I have to soak it all in and make the most of it.”

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