AbbVie is Enabling Students Diagnosed with Immunological Diseases to Shine

Nia Phipps and Lavery Hughes_AbbVie scholarship

From left: Nia Phipps and Lavery Hughes, recipients of the AbbVie Immunology Scholarship/Courtesy of AbbVie.

People with immunological disorders face multiple challenges in their lives related to their medical condition.

Since she was two years old, 20-year-old Baltimore native and current economics student at Spelman College in Atlanta Nia Phipps has dealt with the challenges of uveitis, an inflammation of the eye that can cause vision loss in patients if left untreated. Alongside the uveitis, she also had cataracts in both eyes, which compounded the vision challenges she has faced most of her life.

From an early age, Phipps' life was markedly different from other little girls. She spent significant time traveling back and forth from Baltimore to Boston to consult with her physician. She also spent time undergoing surgical procedures on her eyes.

“My early life was doctors’ offices and multiple surgeries. That gives you such a different perspective on life,” Phipps told BioSpace. “I’ve been living a completely different life from my friends. I can pull off a normal life but it’s not normal behind the scenes.”

Despite these challenges, throughout her life Phipps, who dreams of addressing housing shortages at historic Black colleges like Spelman, has remained steadfast in a belief in herself, that she can overcome the obstacles from her chronic conditions. Although she wears eyeglasses that have lenses thick enough they make her eyes appear larger than normal, she has maintained a positive attitude and believes there are no limits to what she can do.

The same is true for incoming University of Kentucky freshman Lavery Hughes who recently graduated from Barren County High School in Kentucky. This past year, prior to her 18th birthday, Hughes fell drastically ill. She spent hours in the bathroom and lost approximately 30 pounds in a few months’ time. She was sent to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Tennessee where she was diagnosed with and treated for Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disorder.

Much like Phipps, Hughes was active in multiple academic and extracurricular programs, particularly those that offered insight into her passion, veterinary medicine. And, much like Phipps, her chronic condition is largely controlled by drugs such as those developed by Illinois-based AbbVie that allow her to continue to chase her dreams.

“I’ve now reached remission and I realized that all of my dreams are still within reach,” Hughes said.

Not only will continued treatment with medications allow both young women to achieve the lofty goals they have set for themselves, so too will the $15,000 scholarships they both won from AbbVie. Phipps and Hughes are among 45 students who have received the AbbVie Immunology Scholarship, which provides financial support to students living with chronic, immune-mediated diseases who are pursuing higher education in the United States. The scholarship aims to empower students as they pursue a degree and a life not defined by their diseases.

Patrick Horber, president of AbbVie’s U.S. immunology programs, noted that people who face chronic, immune-mediated diseases can sometimes find their symptoms difficult to manage, which impacts their quality of life. The scholarships support students who are making an impact in their communities and who have “exemplified determination to overcome challenges.”

“As a trusted leader in immunology, AbbVie is proud to help support these students' academic journeys as they continue to take on inspiring challenges and pursue their ambitions to make a difference in their communities,” Horber said in a statement.

It’s that reputation with immune-mediated diseases that sparked Phipps’ decision to apply for the scholarship, something she did three times before winning it this year.

“When people choose to understand what’s going on with you, you reach out to them. Especially with eye disorders. For AbbVie to not only acknowledge it but also offer support to help you further shows me they want to see me go farther in life,” she said.

College-age students who have diseases across dermatology, gastroenterology and rheumatology and are seeking an associate’s, bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree are eligible to apply for the AbbVie scholarship. There were more than 1,000 applicants for the AbbVie Immunology Scholarship this year. Although the scholarship is supported by AbbVie, the company notes on its application form that there is no requirement for applicants to have been prescribed a medication developed by the company for their inflammatory disease. To receive the scholarship, applicants are required to submit an essay describing how they have overcome any limitations of their disease.

Phipps wrote about her 18-year saga with uveitis and the multiple surgeries she has undergone. She also addressed the expense of treatment alongside the expense of higher education. Phipps also wrote about the need for greater advocacy for patients with inflammatory diseases and letting people know they’re not by themselves.

Hughes, who has not dealt with her inflammatory disease as long as Phipps has, found out about the scholarship from her doctors, who encouraged her to apply. In her essay, she shared that although people living with chronic diseases can have a type of disability, it’s an invisible one that can sometimes be dismissed. But, Hughes said that disability doesn’t mean that people aren’t capable and it shouldn’t stop anyone from achieving their dreams.

Both Phipps and Hughes described their life’s journey that, for both, remains unchanged by their disease. With a positive, can-do attitude, Phipps won’t let her uveitis keep her down. She remains optimistic and determined to achieve her goals.

“You have to smile in the face of adversity,” she said.

That’s a sentiment she and Hughes both share.

“Living with Crohn’s disease will not stop me from achieving all I want to achieve,” Hughes said.

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