(CNN)As 19-year-old Alyannah Buhman begins her junior year of pre-law studies at Iowa State University, she has ambitions of a career in civil rights law.
She is inspired by her grandfather, a police officer, and by growing up biracial in a small town in which there were only a few Black people.
But living with diabetes during a pandemic presents major challenges to those dreams, most of which aren't immediately obvious. "If you look at me you'd think I was perfectly normal, until you saw a little device sticking out," she said.
That device checks her blood sugar every few minutes, buzzing if it's too high or too low, and houses a pump that can kick in to deliver insulin. Infections can easily disrupt that delicate balance, throwing her glucose into wild fluctuations.
The threat of coronavirus has left her "very on edge," she said. "I get sick really easily. I cannot fight off anything to save my life. I start puking everywhere. It's a terrifying thought."
As college students move into dorms, apartments and fraternity or sorority houses for the fall semester, Buhman is one of countless young Americans with chronic conditions now shouldering the risk of campus life in order to pursue their dreams.
These young people are funny, energetic, ambitious and generous, with illness giving them more wisdom than their years merit.
With weakened immune systems, they want people to know that Covid-19 won't just simply pass through them, presenting with only mild symptoms. It could severely hobble or kill them.
These high-risk individuals are taking precautions, and they hope you will, too.
Because their lives depend on it.
That's what Alyannah Buhman, Maddy Boehme and Alexandria Stamer said in a video produced by the Hashimoto's Encephalopathy SREAT Alliance, emphasizing the need for social distancing and mask adherence to protect young people with a range of conditions compromising their immune systems.
College students are returning to campus during a pandemic
About 3% of the adult US population is immunocompromised, or some 7 million Americans, according to a National Health Interview Survey. And 1 in 10 people is affected by one of about 7,000 known rare diseases, according to Global Genes, an organization that advocates for patients and families affected by rare medical conditions.
Half of those affected are children, and three in 10 children with rare diseases won't survive to their fifth birthday.