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Sat, 03.25.1967

Debi Thomas, Olympic Skater, and Surgeon born

Debi Thomas

*Debi Thomas was born on this date in 1967. She was a Black figure skater, surgeon, and community activist.

Thomas was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. As a young girl, she always wanted to be a doctor. Thomas picked up a world figure skating championship and two national championships during her freshman year at Stanford. She then postponed school for a year to train for the 1988 Winter Olympics. During this time, the engineering major worked toward what she says has been her goal: to become an orthopedic surgeon. “My medical interest has always been strictly in orthopedics,” Thomas said. “I guess that’s because I have a kind of mechanical mind, and I also like interacting with people. Orthopedics is a good mix of the two.”

As the first Black to win a medal at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, she skated to the music of Bizet. Also, while a pre-med student at Stanford University, Thomas won the 1986 U.S. National and World Figure Skating titles, becoming the first and only African American to hold those titles. She was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000. Thomas married Brian Vander Hogen in 1988 in Boulder, Colorado. After their divorce, she married a sports attorney, Chris Bequette, in 1996. They had a son named Christopher Jules "Luc" Bequette before divorcing.

During this time, Thomas returned to school to become an orthopedic surgeon. She graduated from Stanford in 1991 with a degree in engineering and from Northwestern University Medical School in 1997. Thomas followed this with a surgical residency at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Hospital and an orthopedic surgery residency at the Martin Luther King Jr./Charles Drew University Medical Center in South Central Los Angeles. She was practicing in Terra Haute, Indiana.  Thomas, a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, was a frequent committee member and judge.

Thomas was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in April 2012.  In 2015, reports showed that she was living in a bed bug-infested trailer in the Appalachian Mountains with Looney, who was struggling with anger and alcohol issues. Thomas said she was "broke" and lost her son's custody in 2013.  She was featured in an episode of the television series, Iyanla: Fix My Life on the Oprah Winfrey Network in 2015.

She and fiancé Jamie Looney now live with his two sons, Ethan and Austin, in southwest Virginia.

To become a Doctor


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