When Vidhima Shetty was brainstorming story ideas with the staff of the California High School newspaper a few years ago, she thought about a neighbor who had graduated from Cal High in 2012.
"He was a college student at Stanford, and I had heard he was severely ill with a disease," Shetty, now 17, recalled. "I thought maybe I should go over and find out what's going on."
His parents, Mark and Dotty Camenzind, who are both doctors, welcomed her and explained that their son Tom was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.
"These were two parents in pain," Shetty recalled. "Their son was doing so well, and then his entire future unraveled before their eyes. Tom was getting progressively worse."
The disease is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, which means a neuro inflammation of the brain and the spine, Shetty explained. Referred to as ME/CFS, it strikes people of all ages, ethnicities and genders, causing profound fatigue after even walking, talking or concentrating.
"This disease affects 1.5 million to 2 million people in the United States, but it is not very well-known," she said.
Compounding the suffering, she noted, they have to deal with people who do not understand it.
Shetty is on a mission to spread awareness about the disease, and recently published a book on the subject, "An Adolescent's Guide to ME/CFS." She donates proceeds to the Open Medicine Foundation, which is doing research to find a cure.
The 122-page book covers possible causes, the lack of understanding from the outside world and coping strategies.
"There is no cure and no FDA-approved treatment but there are interventions people can take," Shetty said. "Every patient reacts differently."
Shetty targets young people with her book because ME/CFS is the most common reason adolescents are out of school for long periods of time, according to Linda Tannenbaum, CEO of Open Medicine Foundation.
"It's not diagnosed easily so most parents and kids don't know they have it," Tannenbaum told Shetty. "And a lot of people think that the kids are lazy, that they don't want to study, or have a hard time concentrating because they don't try hard enough."
Mark and Dotty Camenzind told Shetty that Tom had been thriving -- he loved Stanford, his friends, and his classes. Then in January 2014 he came down with the flu and did not seem to recover. He soon caught a cold, fell behind in his classes, and worked hard to catch up. The disease consequently jeopardized his immune system, his parents explained to Shetty.
Some patients may be wiped out for a day or two after even the slightest activity, Shetty said. But Tom's case is much more severe; he is bedridden and cannot tolerate light or noise.
"Tom has to wear soundproof earmuffs and eye covers because he is extremely sensitive," Shetty said.
Her story was published in The Californian in September 2016, and the reaction was immediate.
"I started getting comments from all over the world, thankful that someone who doesn't have the disease went out of the way to write about it," Shetty said. "My desire to write the book came after the article came out."
She researched the subject and found medical professionals to look over her findings. She then emailed her manuscript to literary agents, who noted either that she was too young or didn't have a medical degree.
"I then sent the manuscript to Tri-Valley Writers and someone with a publishing house reached out to me," she said.
Russian Hill Press published the book in August, and it sells on Amazon for $7.49 in paperback, $6.99 Kindle. She has sold about 200 books and distributed another 250 herself to hospitals, schools, libraries and other organizations.
Shetty, now a senior and editor of The Californian, is undecided about where she will be heading to college in the fall but she wants to continue with journalism.
"I want to use my voice to help other people," she said.