A recent graduate and student-athlete at Antioch High School is fighting a rare illness.

Makayla Claussen graduated from Antioch high school in 2011, was homecoming queen, played soccer and went on to attend the University of Tennessee.

But just a few months ago her life changed when she became sick.

"On March 13, I was diagnosed with mono and then admitted to the UT Medical Center. They later found that my blood count was extremely low," said Claussen.

Doctors suspected a life-threatening immune disorder known as HLH.

With a few weeks, Makayla was sent to the intensive care unit at Vanderbilt Medical Center.

Doctors in Nashville confirmed she not only had HLH but also T-cell lymphoma.

"A key element of the immune system all of a sudden becomes dysfunctional and opens the door to all kinds of infections. It wouldn't bother you or me because our immune system is intact," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Claussen has undergone weekly chemo sessions, which has taken its toll on her body.

"I'm regaining strength, how to bend over, how to walk. I haven't tried to run yet, but I am going to get there soon," said Claussen.

Because her white blood cell count is low, she has required frequent blood transfusions.

She hopes that when the public hears about her story, they'll make a life-saving decision to donate.

"I had over 15 units of blood given to me in the hospital and platelets. It's very important to donate blood. I never understood how much blood can save someone's life," said Claussen.

She remains in the hospital with high fevers and had to have three blood transfusions over the past few days.

Visit this link to learn how you can donate blood: http://www.redcrossblood.org/tennesseevalley

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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