We are determined

Medical studies major Sabrina Fredo ’24 can often be found studying in a sunny corner of George Hall or playing piccolo for the Spirit of Lenoir-Rhyne Marching Band. Despite facing some unusual challenges, Fredo has made the most of every opportunity.

Sabrina Fredo placing a sample in a petri dish in a microbiology lab

“I was diagnosed with a chronic illness around the time I was applying for college. LR was close to home and offered scholarships that made it the most affordable and practical fit for me,” she shared. “At first I worried I’d be in the shadow of my sister, who was a senior during my first year, so I got involved all around campus – marching band, Greek life. The support system I’ve met has been wonderful in helping me get to where I am.”

Making sense of chronic illness

Setting an early career goal to become a physician assistant, Fredo declared a major in medical studies – an interdisciplinary major including coursework in biology, chemistry and physics. 

Like all the sciences, the medical studies major requires students to complete original research in their senior year, supervised by biology professors Daniel Grimm, Ph.D., and Judy Moore, Ph.D., who have mentored Fredo since her cellular biology class. 

“Being chronically ill, I knew I wanted to do something medical for my research. I have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which causes symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, and in my case, passing out,” said Fredo. “Some research shows POTS may be an autoimmune disorder, so I proposed the idea that people with autoimmune disorders will have different microbiomes. Dr. Grimm and I have developed a study to test that theory, which is in progress now.”

Sabrina Fredo smiles while working in a biology lab

For the study, participants will complete a questionnaire and provide a cheek swab. The swabs will be allowed to grow in an agar for 24 to 48 hours, then Fredo will study the results to compare the samples of immunocompromised participants with non-immunocompromised participants.

“This whole process has given me hope that studies like mine might one day improve testing autoimmune disorders and also pave the way to better treatments for individuals diagnosed with chronic illnesses,” Fredo added.

Good times with great supports

In addition to academic inspiration, Fredo shared she has found ongoing support in the groups she has been part of at LR, which helped her develop a sense of humor about her condition.

“The band has been my primary support. One of my POTS symptoms is that I pass out frequently. I passed out on my first day of band camp!” Fredo laughed. “Since then, we trained students to be able to help me, and we even have a joke to call my boyfriend if I do become unconscious.”

Sabrina Fredo and Ethan Farkas pose in band uniforms with the U.S. Capitol in the background

One of her favorite memories came from traveling with the Spirit of LR to Washington D.C. in April 2023 to march in the National Cherry Blossom Festival parade. 

“At the end of the parade, I had passed out. My best friend, Hayley (Ward ’23), and boyfriend, Ethan (Farkas ’23), were trying to find me in a medical tent in the city. The they received a miscommunication that I was on one of the tour buses, but I was still in the tent,” she recalled. 

Despite the communication challenges, Fredo felt confident her support network wouldn’t let her down. “I don’t march with my cell phone, so nobody was able to reach me. It took me four tries calling Ethan from an unknown number before he answered and came to find me. Looking back, it was funny to hear how the miscommunication happened, but I knew it would work out and my friends would find me.”

Sabrina Fredo plays flute in a performance with the wind symphony

Fredo has found additional support through fraternity and sorority life. Although her health concerns moved her to leave active membership in Kappa Delta, she remains closely connected with Theta Xi, her boyfriend Farkas’ fraternity.

“Those boys have been so supportive and ready to lend a hand whenever I needed it. You couldn’t ask for a better group of friends,” she said.

These connections and the rest of the support network she has built at LR has made all the difference for Fredo as she looks back at the last four years. 

“If I could give one piece of advice to new students, it’s to never give up. I decided I didn’t want to give up, not even in the one semester when I had five surgeries in seven weeks. I still got to my classes and passed them! You can do amazing things, even when it gets tough.”

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