Anna Thomas was elated when she received her acceptance to Texas Tech at 17 years old. A few years later, Thomas was preparing to graduate in May, but a week before walking the stage, she began to feel terribly ill.
She went over to what is now the Student Wellness Center to get blood work done and find the cause for her sickness, she said. To her and the doctor’s surprise, her platelet count was dangerously low.
According to the University of Rochester’s online encyclopedia, platelets are small blood cells that help the body form clots. Additionally, a healthy platelet count is about 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microliter of blood. In Thomas’ case, her platelet count was at 4,000 per microliter of blood.
“Once you’re below 10,000, your brain and body can start hemorrhaging, and there’s internal bleeding that’s happening,” Thomas, who is now the associate director of operations at the National Wind Institute, said. “That’s why I had so many bruises that I couldn’t account for.”
She was rushed over to Covenant Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, she said. Six days later, she was transferred to University Medical Center for a bone marrow transplant for her aplastic anemia. Fortunately, Thomas’ younger sister donated some of her bone marrow to Thomas.
After going through many unsuccessful treatment options, Thomas said the doctors moved on to high-dose chemotherapy to introduce her sister’s marrow into hers, which proved to be successful.
After that, Thomas graduated with her bachelor of science in 2007 while in the hospital and was accepted into the College of Education’s graduate program. Later, Thomas said she was healthy enough to have two children and graduated with her Master of Education in 2010.
While she was working on her Ph.D. and working at Tech, she said she began to notice symptoms similar to those she had before her first bone marrow transplant. Despite being in Las Vegas for a conference, Thomas immediately went to the nearest Quest Diagnostics and got in contact with her doctor in Lubbock. To her dismay, her blood count results came back with a platelet count of 75,000 per microliter of blood.
When drugs and treatments did not work like the first time, Thomas said it was an unreal period of time. Not only was she managing her health, the mother of two was president of Staff Senate at Tech. However, she said she had the support of her family and her work colleagues.
Kacey Marshall, assistant director of Student Services in the Wind Energy program, works alongside Thomas. She said when she and other co-workers heard about Thomas’ second transplant, they worked together to help out.
“We all did what we could,” Marshall said. “We (all) gave blood, and we got together for a benefit dinner and silent auction.”
While managing her role as a mother and co-worker, Thomas qualified for her second bone marrow transplant. This news uprooted Thomas from her friends and family in Lubbock, as she was transferred to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for radiation and chemotherapy.
“You’re not allowed to have visitors. You’re not allowed to walk around,” Thomas said. “It’s kind of like being in prison.”
The most frightening part of the ordeal, Thomas said, was when she was diagnosed with pneumonia on top of everything else. According to a scholarly article by Rudy Tedja, hospital-acquired pneumonia kills 27-50 percent of patients.
While she was going through this ordeal, Thomas said she was writing her dissertation from her hospital bed.
“I was on 46 medications at the time,” Thomas said. “Needless to say, I was having a very hard time remembering what I was doing in my dissertation. Some days, I would read and re-read an article four or five times just to include that information in my literature review, or I would have to look at and analyze data for days, when normally I could look at it and have it done in five or 10 minutes.”
Two years later, Thomas said she is still healing but is finally back to normal. She said even though she has a blood disease, she is focusing on her children and her work as the associate managing director at Tech’s National Wind Institute.
Looking back, Thomas said she was not scared the first time around, but became more scared the second time around. Then, she knew she was going to fight for her family and her future.
“I kind of see myself as a strategic fighter,” Thomas said. “I think I fight, and I work really hard, and I’m a very loyal person.”