Biochemistry major discovers new academic and career paths after autoimmune disease diagnosis

Senior Febechi Thomas, 24, found her way to Georgia Gwinnett after enrolling in another metro area urban college that proved to be too far away and ultimately, too expensive. Her goal was to graduate without taking out student loans, and GGC’s affordable tuition and flexible class schedules allowed her to work part time to pay her tuition as she studied.

Once her classes at GGC were well underway, Thomas experienced a life-changing diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, a long-term autoimmune disorder that affects the joints, making them swollen, stiff and painful.

“At age 22 I went to the doctor for a cold but was told I had to be put on medication immediately because my legs were so badly swollen,” she said. “Later that year I learned that because I was diagnosed late, the disease had started to erode my cervical spine and shoulder joints.”

The diagnosis proved to be a turning point for Thomas’s studies, pushing her to change her academic journey from respiratory therapy to biochemistry to help her understand the changes taking place in her body. It also ignited her dream of becoming a doctor so that she could better help others who suffer from autoimmune diseases.

“My diagnosis had a huge impact on my health and my approach to the future,” Thomas said. “Thankfully the medication controls my symptoms allowing me to have energy to go to classes and study without feeling drained and in constant pain. I am now able to do activities that most college students take for granted, like the ability to take part in clubs and volunteer.”
 
Also aiding her academic success, Thomas credits her professors with understanding her circumstances and helping her outside of school hours. She now happily excels in her academics and is earning the grades she’ll need to eventually get into a master’s program.
 
In addition to her studies, Thomas makes time for campus involvement. She’s currently a member of the Tri-Beta Biology Honor Society, the American Chemical Society, president of the Minority Association of Premedical Students and is a student ambassador. 
 
“I have always wanted to get involved, and becoming a student ambassador has helped me to connect with people on a deeper level,” she said. “I enjoy showing prospective students the great advantages of coming to GGC and proving to them you don’t have to go to a large school to get a great education and great opportunities.”
 
Thomas moved to the U.S. from Sierra Leone as a child and is grateful for the cultural diversity represented on campus. 

“As a person originally from West Africa, I enjoy meeting other students from various countries, religions, and ethnic backgrounds all by taking one class here at GGC,” she said. “In addition, my professors have given me the confidence and knowledge to fearlessly pursue my goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.”
 
Thomas draws inspiration from a quote from her mother, “Never compare yourself to anyone else. People accomplish their goals in their own time, so relax, focus and don’t give up on what you want, even if it takes a while to get there.”