Nearly three years after developing a rare, unclassified disease of the autonomic nervous system which has rendered her unable to work, attend school or live alone, Katrina R. Tangen, Class of 2001, and her father Ken have recorded a Christmas CD to raise funds to help finance her medical and living expenses.
Although Ken said he hopes to raise between $5,000 to $10,000 from the sale of “Katrina’s Christmas Wish,” which features a mix of original and classic Christmas songs like “Winter Wonderland,” he said he had another objective in mind when they conceived the idea last spring.
“This is a fundraiser in the sense that we do hope to raise money, but we wanted to do something to show that even when life is difficult, doing something good is what we should be about,” he said.
While at Harvard, Tangen concentrated in history of science and religion and lived in Cabot House. She was active in the Harvard Radcliffe Christian Fellowship, the Ecumenical Forum and the Phillips Brooks House Association before taking a leave of absence in her junior year.
Tangen said her life changed when she was diagnosed with salmonella poisoning while volunteering at an orphanage in Nicaragua in 1999 the summer after her sophomore year.
“I was diagnosed with salmonella poisoning the last week I was there. When I came back to school, I was treated, but I kept getting worse rather than better,” Tangen said.
She finally decided to take a leave from Harvard following the winter recess and has been living at home in Costa Mesa, Calif. ever since.
“It’s been three years now and my nervous system is still screwed up,” she said.
Tangen said she suffers from a variety of afflictions on a daily basis, including exhaustion, an abnormally high heart rate, blurry vision, muscle spasms, swollen glands and sensitivity to light and sound. She said she is currently being treated by three doctors, though she estimates that she has been treated by 20 since her initial diagnosis.
“I am mostly at home,” she said. “I am not able to go back to school because my eyes do not focus well and my hands hurt when I write or type. I mostly rest.”
But for the past several months, Tangen has been involved with the production of the 10-track CD that bears her name, currently available online. She collaborated with her father on the CD’s title track and wrote the liner notes.
In the notes Tangen, a devout Christian, revealed that her deep faith has helped her cope with her illness.
“No human being is foreign to suffering. But whatever you are going through, know that God loves you, that He feels your pain, and that He understands,” the notes read.
Katrina said her involvement in the CD’s recording, which took place in North Carolina, was a welcome respite from the stresses of her daily life.
“I have done choir music and musical theater since I was in the first grade,” Tangen said. “[Recording the CD] was a way to reconnect with my old life and do something I have always wanted to do.”
Her father, a trained tenor who is a management consultant and a statistics professor, said he had long thought of recording a CD, but that this future goal became an immediate reality because of his daughter’s situation.
“Katrina’s story proves that you never know what is going to happen,” he said.
Three years after the onset of symptoms, Tangen said her future is uncertain.
“I always think that I am going to return [to Harvard], but I really do hope to come back next fall,” she said.