Hannah Chulack: Despite illness, she’s rocking Instagram
By Gaye Bunderson
If she were the bragging sort, Hannah Nicole Chulack of Eagle could boast about her 100,000 followers on Instagram. But the 16-year-old remains lowkey about the success she’s found, success that came through music with a constructive message.
“I share my songs, my dreams, and say, ‘Don’t let people bring you down,’” the teen said.
Hannah was born with a genetic condition known as mitochondrial disorder. The precise medical definition of the disease (from https://my.clevelandclinic.org) is a “chronic, genetic, often inherited disorder that occurs when mitochondria fail to produce enough energy for the body to function properly.”
Mitochondria serve as the “energy factory” in the human body.
Information from the Mayo Clinic further explains: “A common factor among mitochondrial diseases is that the mitochondria are unable to completely burn food and oxygen to generate energy, which is essential for normal cell function. Symptoms might include, among other things, muscle weakness.”
For all appearances, Hannah is a typical 16-year-old; however, her mother, Nanci Chulack, said, “Hannah lives a lot in pain, but she rarely seems to show it or let it get her down.”
The Chulack family, which includes husband Kelly and son Luke (who also has mitochondrial disorder), came to the Treasure Valley from Burbank, Calif. early in 2018. Burbank, said Nanci, had lost its hometown flavor.
“It felt fast-paced; it didn’t feel like home,” Hannah confirmed.
Eagle captured the family’s heart immediately.
“Here, it’s better; we do more things here than we did in California — and it was my first time seeing snow. I looked for it all the time, even at 4 in the morning,” Hannah said.
Nanci praised the people in the small Ada County community. “They are people with a family mindset,” she said, also commending many of them for being people who live by faith.
The Chulack family members made friends easily and quickly in the town. “Our neighbors have the same outlook as we do,” Nanci said, explaining that faith and family are important to their neighbors just as they are to the Chulacks. “All the neighbors are from Los Angeles, and they came here for the same reasons we did. We didn’t come here to change the area, or to make it like the places we left. We like it as it is here.”
Hannah made friends through school. “I have nice friends I met through Connections Academy,” she said. Though all the kids study at home online, they go on field trips together and get to know each other that way.
At age 6, Hannah started writing songs. “She has a passion for songwriting and had it early. It was something that was not the norm for kids her age,” Nanci said.
Songwriting was frequenly an outlet to help Hannah cope with her illness and other trials. Nanci explained that because of her medical condition, Hannah was out of school a lot, so when she returned, other kids didn’t talk to her. She was often left to play by herself. Music was her way of turning loneliness into a positive statement.
Hannah admits she felt left out many times but vowed to herself she wouldn’t give in to pity.
“I know where I stand,” she said, meaning her self-confidence has always been strong.
Asked whether her parents were pivotal in giving her that sense of empowerment and self-worth, she said they did. “You raised me good,” she told her mother. “Dad is a good dad, too.”
Those same affirmative attributes were bestowed on Luke as well, and Nanci said of both her children, “They had to pull from within, and truly their faith was most important.”
Luke is 18 and loves computers and talking.
“He’s a communicator,” said his mom.
“He’s great to talk to. If he were here, he’d be talking a lot,” said his sister. “I talk to him and we can always relate. He’s a great brother.”
Hannah plays the ukelele, guitar and piano; she is self-taught on the ukelele but took some lessons on the other instruments. Melodies and lyrics just come to her; sometimes the melodies are first, sometimes the lyrics, and sometimes both pop into her mind at once.
“God has given me this talent,” she said.
“It started from something not good,” said Nanci.
Hannah turned her bedroom closet into a recording studio and fixed up the space for the purposes of shooting videos as well. She puts the videos on YouTube. (For an example, go to https://www.youtube.com/watchv=7x0A_Ehp7Kw.)
She has help shooting the videos, hires backup musicians when needed, and gets her videos professionally mastered. Her fan following continues to grow online, but like so many online platforms, the Internet trolls pop up too. Hannah is unfazed. If she gets trolled on Instagram, for instance, with someone making a dark statement about her and her music, she just responds, “What’s bothering you?” She may also tell a troll, “I’ll pray for you.” She has gotten people to respond to her, open up to her, and then become friendly instead of abusive.
She uses her Instagram account to spread her faith also, posting Psalms or something about the value of patience or doing good to others.
Another thing Hannah likes about her adopted state of Idaho is, “I can make more country music here, and Christian music too.”
With mitochondrial disease being genetic and incurable, Nanci admits it was difficult to watch her children struggle with the illness. “It’s hard to see them suffer,” she said. Part of what prepared her for parenting children with chronic illness was a type 1 diabetes diagnosis she got as a young girl. “It helped me be able to help them,” she said.
She also struggled with anxiety and panic attacks as a kid and feels that also gave her a greater understanding of her children’s challenges.
Hannah said of her mom, “I don’t feel alone at all.”
Hannah is uncertain if she’ll pursue music as a career when she’s older. “For now, I’m doing it because I like to do it. I will always be doing it. If I feel sad, writing a song helps me.”
She’s uncertain about music as a profession when she gets ready to pursue an adult career. But she still has plans for her post-high school years, and it involves an enthusiasm for the Broncos. “I want to go to Boise State,” she said.