When Evelyn Farkas was 13 years old, she found herself in the center of a medical mystery.
After a bout of strep throat caused by a common bacterial infection, she became depressed and anxious. Her behavior was a stark contradiction to her typical bubbly, smiling personality.
“It was a scary time,” Farkas said. “My mom’s a health care professional and she was worried sick. Nothing dramatic had happened in my life—no divorce, no one died, not even a middle school break-up. Nothing that would lead to clinical depression and anxiety.”
Several doctors, therapists and psychiatrists evaluated Farkas but none could figure out what was going on. That is, until she went back to her pediatrician’s office. The pediatrician suggested Farkas get tested for PANDAS, short for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Infections. PANDAS is a syndrome that primarily affects children and causes neurological disorders following strep throat or scarlet fever.
“Besides the diagnosis, she was the first person who looked at me like I wasn’t broken and that I was still human,” Farkas said.
The experience with her pediatrician inspired her career plans to become a pediatric neurologist. Farkas also said her service in the Seventh-day Adventist Pathfinder Youth Ministry and as a swim coach solidified her commitment to help children.
Farkas, a recent graduate of North Gwinnett High School, is a Class of 2024 Presidential Scholar in Georgia State University’s Honors College. She plans to double major in neuroscience and public health.
A first-generation American, Farkas said she is inspired and motivated by her parents, who immigrated from Romania.
“My parents grew up in a communist country where my mom’s choices for a profession were, in essence, secretary, teacher or nurse,” Farkas said. “My parents were brave to leave everything they knew for the sake of starting a family in a place where their kids would have so many more options than they did.”
When Farkas isn’t studying, she dabbles in photography and plays the violin. She’s performed with a chamber orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“It’s something I do for me, not for academic prestige,” she said. “It makes me really happy and I think it’s really beautiful.”