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Olathe Northwest High School graduate turns advocate after coming down with tuberculosis

OLATHE, Kan. -- An Olathe Northwest High School graduate is calling on personal experience to become an advocate against tuberculosis.

The 21 year old now wants to raise awareness and educate the public.

“I was coughing for about two weeks, and I lost ten pounds in a short amount of time really quickly,” said Zee Pinkerton, who graduated from Olathe Northwest two years ago.

During his senior year, doctors diagnosed him with tuberculosis.  But Pinkerton said it wasn't easy for doctors to make the diagnosis.

“I went to a doctor and they misdiagnosed me, and that time I was active too so, and when I'm active, I'm spreading to a lot of people, and I didn't know about that,” Pinkerton added.

Pinkerton said he continued to go to school and practice while he was sick, exposing everyone around him.

“They told me I need to stay home until I wasn't active, so I was quarantined for about two months, taking medication. I was feeling better, then I went back to school to finish out my senior year,” Pinkerton said.

As Pinkerton recovered at home, hundreds of people at Olathe Northwest were tested after possibly being exposed to TB.

The health department eventually treated at least 40 people who were carrying tuberculosis, but weren't sick.

“They freaked out a little bit, but the Health Department provided education,” Pinkerton explained.

According to the CDC, cases of TB are rare in the U.S. -- about three cases for every 100,000 thousand people every year.

Pinkerton said that because TB is so rare in the U.S., he's become an advocate to raise awareness about the dangers of the disease.

“I had an opportunity to go to Washington D.C. and talk to senators and try to raise awareness and try to raise funding for the research of new vaccines,” Pinkerton said. “If we tell our story, and tell people to get tested, we can reduce the amount of TB cases, both locally, in state, and internationally, and that's our goal.”

Pinkerton said he thinks he may have been exposed to TB in Ethiopia in 2007, before he came to the United States.

For more info, visit the CDC website.