Sarah Hyland Opens Up About Living with Chronic Illness: ‘It’s Okay to Feel Angry’

Aili Nahas

Living with a chronic illness for her entire life, Sarah Hyland has learned more than a few lessons.

“Everything happens for a reason,” says Hyland, who was born with kidney dysplasia, a condition in which the kidneys don’t fully develop in the womb. “[Struggles are] only going to make you a stronger and more efficient person.”

Hyland, 29, underwent her first kidney transplant surgery in 2012 (the kidney was donated by her father, Edward), but she discovered four years later that the kidney was failing.

“When I found out, there was a nice cocktail of guilt, fear and a kind of hopelessness,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue, on stands Friday. “But also it was like, okay, this is now a part of your life.”

In order to prepare for her next transplant in 2017, Hyland went on dialysis for almost a year; her Modern Family costars were known to wear surgical masks to protect her fragile immune system. Immunosuppressants led Hyland’s face to swell, and bed rest meant significant weight loss, which prompted painful speculation and public criticism about her appearance. But ultimately, the surgery — with a kidney donated by her brother — was successful.

Sarah Hyland | Brian Bowen Smith

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And in an unexpected twist, Hyland had her first date with her now-fiancé, podcast host and Bachelor in Paradise bartender Wells Adams, just days before the surgery.

“I had all these health issues at the very beginning of our relationship and then I was on massive amounts of painkillers in the hospital FaceTiming him at all hours of the day and night,” says Hyland with a laugh. “He still liked me after that!”

Now happily planning her wedding, Hyland, who stars on Modern Family’s final season (premiering Sept. 25) and both stars in and executive produced The Wedding Year (in theaters Friday), won’t dwell on her difficult past.

Sarah Hyland | Brian Bowen Smith

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“People who have chronic illness should take the time to say, ‘This isn’t fair,’” she says. “Take a moment to cry and be like ‘F you’ to whomever did this to me. It’s okay to feel angry, just don’t let it be all-consuming.”

  • For more from Sarah Hyland, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Jake Chessum/Trunk Archive

And ultimately, “I have realized the benefits of being able to talk about it,” says Hyland, who initially shied away from going public with her second transplant. “Not just for on a mental level for myself, but so that others don’t feel so alone.”

Modern Family premieres its final season on Sept. 25 on ABC. The Wedding Year is in theaters Friday.