After nearly a decade as a Navy aircraft firefighter, Sabra Bodiford knew something was off. She began to suffer from recurring migraine headaches.
In 2018, after a year of seeing various doctors, including specialists, and a review from the Navy’s medical board, Bodiford was told she would have to medically retire from the career she loved.
“I was sad because that was all I knew my whole adult life,” Bodiford said. “I thought to myself, ‘How am I supposed to be a civilian?’”
Now, the 31-year-old mother of two is working on a bachelor’s degree in biology at Georgia State University, and has a newfound passion for helping others.
Her new mission: To become part of a research team that works on the prevention and management of autism and mental health disorders.
“It was like a lightbulb went off,” said Bodiford, a junior at the university. “I felt like I had found my why and my purpose again.”
One of Bodiford’s daughters, 11-year-old Alana, has autism. Another family member has been diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia.
“It just seems like autism is on the rise,” Bodiford said. “I want to be a part of a research team because I want to help figure out why we haven’t solved this issue.”
Bodiford enjoys time with her daughter, doing arts and crafts, decorating cakes and going to art museums. But she knows first-hand that having a child with autism or a family member with a mental health disorder can be hard.
“I want to bring some relief to those families, and even relief for myself,” Bodiford said.
During her time in the Navy, Bodiford, who was responsible for ensuring the Navy’s aircraft equipment was always in good shape to prevent fires, grew accustomed to military life.
Whether it was financial aid questions, housing or health care, everything Bodiford needed was on her naval base in California. That made the transition to civilian life harder than Bodiford expected.
“Back then, they would do everything for you. I didn’t have to schedule anything. It was all there,” Bodiford said. “Once I got out, it was a rough couple of years.”
One positive: Bodiford’s migraines became a lot less frequent.
But the transition to becoming a full-time student at Georgia State still wasn’t easy. Bodiford gives credit to her mother, Helen Daniel, who moved from their hometown of Thomasville, Ga., to help raise her children after the death of Bodiford’s fiancé.
“Without my mother, I wouldn’t be able to make my dreams come true. I love her for that,” Bodiford said.
Now, she’s eager to graduate and continue her educational pursuit toward a Ph.D. in genetics.
“I know it’s going to take some time, but I’m excited,” Bodiford said. “When I’m tired and don’t feel like doing my homework, I just remember my purpose. I remember my why. My daughter is my why.”
-Photo by Raven Schley