By Bailey Robbins and Lindsay Frierson
Features Editor and Contributing writer
Briana Vito’s life was radically transformed with one phone call a little less than a year ago.
“The day [the doctor] called me, they left me a message that [said], ‘Ms. Vito, you have to call us back,” she recalled. “And I’m thinking to myself, ‘What is going on? What happened?’”
In a panic, she quickly returned the call.
“They [said], ‘Ms. Vito, you need to get a piece of paper and a pen,’” she remembered. ‘“We need to tell you all of the things you’re allergic to.’”
And so, Vito had to eliminate common foods, such as shrimp, cod, walnuts, soy, milk, egg whites, corn and wheat from her diet.
“It hit hard for me when I … found out I was allergic to all that stuff,” the 21-year-old said. “I’ve never been allergic to these things in my entire life. I didn’t even know how to start.”
Perseverance before the allergies
Life for the Nolensville native hasn’t been easy. Raised by her grandmother, Judith, she learned the importance of perseverance.
“My mom was never there. My dad died when I was really young, and I had never gotten to meet him at all,” she said. “There was points in my life where I wasn’t going to make it, and my grandma was like, ‘You can.’”
This instilled optimism kept Vito strong after learning she would be having her son, Brayden, senior year of high school.
During this time, Judith continued to encourage her to remain in school, apply to colleges and go to work. She applied to several different schools, and after being accepted to all of them all, she chose University of Chattanooga.
After her arrival at UTC, Vito gave birth to Brayden. Soon after the birth, she began to have major complications. She went to the doctor and discovered she was having appendicitis for the second time, a “one in five million chance” occurrence considering she already had her appendix removed a little more than a year ago.
“The infection spread from the location of where my appendix was, through my stomach,” she said. “And, I ended up having to withdraw from UTC, because I had to get half my stomach taken out.”
Despite all of the issues, Vito continued to push on. So, she and her Brayden packed up their belongings and rode the journey back home to Nashville on a Greyhound bus.
Upon returning to Music City, Vito immediately started working a full-time job to make ends meet, but her grandmother urged her to re-enroll in school.
So, she worked to raise enough money for school, and her grandmother helped with the rest. By the time she started at MTSU last spring, Vito’s grandmother passed on.
“After that happened it was like pushing on for myself,” Vito said, choking up with the tears welling up in her eyes.
Soon after Judith’s death, she began to have unexplained stomach pains. Despite having a CAT scan, MRI and ultrasound of her stomach, her tests came back perfect.
“I made them do everything,” she said. Even an allergy test that she “didn’t believe would do anything.”
And yet, now her shopping list has been significantly cut in half since her allergy diagnosis. Vito continues to push onward, metaphorically and literally, with her shopping cart.
She attempts to eat organic foods, gluten-free bread, vegetables and fruit; however, her allergy does not deter her from eating the very things she has been asked to eliminate.
“I’m not going eat things that don’t taste good to me,” Vito said.
For the most part, she explained that her busy lifestyle narrows her options. Working two jobs at Cope Administration Building and Two Bits Bar in Nashville, going to school full time and having her three-year-old, she has to make sacrifices and eat what she shouldn’t.
“There’s some things I’ve totally cut out because they tear up my stomach,” Vito said with a sour face. “I haven’t been able to distinguish what foods give me hives and what foods tear up my stomach.”
She still continues to eat unavoidable foods like wheat, and occasionally takes a chance and eats at what used to be her favorite restaurant, Taco Stand, located on San Louis in Nashville.
“I definitely pay for it bad really, really bad,” Vito chuckled.
Her allergies are still new to her, and she is still trying to figure out how to cope.
Beyond the food
She chooses to focus on her future rather than her rocky past and allergies.
Motivated by her late grandmother and professors, the criminal justice major aspires to be a lawyer and advocate, particularly for young people’s voices.
“I don’t want to be a teacher, I don’t want to sit in a classroom and teach just a classroom of kids. I want to stand on a stage and … and make a difference,” she said passionately.
Vito plans to open a law firm in Davidson County, Rutherford County or somewhere in Tennessee. She hopes to make young people aware about governor’s elections, women’s rights, how political elections work and how to have a voice.
“I want to be that person that they can come to or call,” Vito explained. “I want to show people and my son that you don’t have to be afraid of life.”
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