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By Caitlin Wolfe
The transition from high school to college can be tough for young adults trying to find their way, but being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease on top of that can be even more strenuous. However, Tamya Pope, a now 22-year-old Wiregrass Tech student, is not letting that stop her.
In 2019, at the height of her senior year at Coffee High School, Tamya began to fall ill. She states her ability to keep food down became difficult and she grew weaker as the days passed. In attempts to figure out what was wrong, the doctors’ visits began. However, nothing seemed to work. This is when the long hospital stays started and Tamya was forced to miss out on a lot of typical senior activities she had hoped to participate in.
According to Tamya, within those last two months before her high school graduation, she was in and out of the hospital, being transferred from Phoebe Putney to Emory. Graduation was growing closer, but Tamya was very weak. With doctors still unable to reach a conclusion, other struggles began to emerge like vision and spinal issues. Finally, as this two-month period was reaching a close, Tamya and her family were given some answers.
She was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica, a rare autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system and causes inflammation in the nerves of the eyes and spinal cord.
Luckily, Tamya was able to leave the hospital long enough to attend her high school graduation, although she was confined to a wheelchair due to weakness and other complications. “My goal was to attend Valdosta State University after graduation. That didn’t happen because I got sick,” says Tamya when speaking of the goals she had set for her future before finding out about her illness. Tamya states she has traveled out of town every six months since her diagnosis to receive treatment, but is now able to get her treatment from home.
Choosing not to let this get in her way, Tamya made the best of her situation and stayed home to attend Wiregrass Technical College in Douglas. As a full time student majoring in Business Management, she has taken a full load of classes each semester and summer classes as well. According to Tamya, with the support of her instructor, Paulette Brown, her mother and father, and other family members, she will graduate from Wiregrass in December and then attend VSU. After getting her four year degree from VSU, Tamya has hopes of working in Human Resources.
Tamya is also the secretary of Wiregrass’s Student Government Association and was recently named the Wiregrass Student of the Month for June by the Douglas Rotary Club.
When asked how she has pushed through the last four years, she says, “I’m not going to let it get to me. I just had the mindset to keep going. It’s not the end of the world.”