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By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
The first thing most people notice about Julie Gilday is her height ó she’s only 4 feet 3 inches tall.
But those who know her best say her smile and positive attitude are bigger than most.
Julie was born without adrenal glands ó glands on the top of the kidneys that regulate various hormone levels in the body.
“It’s a rare medical condition. I’m the only one that’s in written medical books that has the disease. That’s actually the reason why I’m only 4-foot-3,” she said.
Julie’s parents, Susan and Jim Gilday, were living in Boston, Mass., when she was born, and they found out about her condition at birth.
Julie’s older brother died from the condition around 1980, so doctors started testing all the Gilday’s children.
Her two older siblings, Kristen and Paul Miller, are normal.
School has been a tough road for Julie in many ways. “When I was younger, I was always sick,” she said.
The family moved to New York when she was 6 months old, and the cold winters bothered her condition.
She had to go to the hospital five or six times every year when the weather turned cold.
Julie said doctors don’t know why cold weather aggravates her condition ó “basically I am the test,” she said.
Even though she’s had to make up a lot of school work during sickness and attend school when she didn’t feel well, Julie has always given school a high priority.
“I’ve just always had a thing for wanting to keep my grades up,” she said.
Seeing good grades come back was something to look forward to when she was sick, Julie said.
In past years, Julie did her school work from her hospital bed when her sickness was extreme.
Things are a little easier now.
She usually doesn’t have to go into the hospital.
After Julie’s parents found out she was sick, her mother, Susan, became a nurse.
“She takes care of me,” Julie said.
The family moved to North Carolina when Julie was just starting third grade ó partly because of her father’s job, but mostly because the warmer weather would help avoid so many hospital visits.
When eighth grade came around, Julie hit a rough spot.
“I did not like who I was,” she said.
Other students picked on her because of her height, and she started taking growth hormone shots hoping to gain some inches.
The shots made her sick and didn’t help her grow.
After a while, Julie said she got over the hurtful comments from others.
“I kind of just became OK with it. I can’t change who I am,” she said.
During her past four years at West Rowan High School, Julie has gotten really involved.
“I’m at everything.”
She goes to all school sporting events, has a job after school and volunteers in her free time.
Her time at West Rowan really has been the best time in her life so far, mostly because of her friends.
“My friends here have just stepped up for me. They’ve made it a great time,” Julie said.
Her best friend, Taylor Strickland, can identify with her height concerns but in a slightly different way.
She may be the shortest student at school, and Taylor is probably the tallest ó he’s 6 feet 7 inches tall.
“It’s funny because people pick on him because he’s so tall and people pick on me because I’m so short,” Julie said.
Her freshmen year at West was hard. She couldn’t remember where her classes were, but “I think, looking back, it’s gotten 100 percent easier,” she said.She has her moments at home when she feels down ó and everybody does ó but “I just live each day for what it is. There are people out there that have it worse,” she said.
Julie’s condition has also influenced her career choice.
She wanted to a be a nurse for many years but realized that the stress may be too much for her after watching her mom.
Julie heard about occupational therapy and thought it might be a lower stress alternative to nursing. “You still get to work with patients,” she said.She started an internship at Genesis Elder Care in Mooresville last semester and “I fell in love with the field,” she said.
She’s planning to attend Catawba College in the fall and then go on to an occupational therapy program.
Julie is ready to leave high school now but she said she’s sure her attitude on that would change as college got closer.
She now works at Genesis after school as a recreation assistant and she even volunteers when she’s off the clock.
“It’s something I like to do,” she said.
In her free time she likes to spend time with her nieces and nephews.
Julie doesn’t really know what challenges will come in the future, but whatever it is, she’s ready.
“I’m hoping that I can get my degree in occupational therapy and get a good job in pediatrics,” she said.
Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or hlee@salisburypost.com.

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